Saturday, April 10, 2010

Top Tools We Rely on for Our Wholesale, Retail, and E-commerce Businesses

As many of you may know, we manage a series of wholesale, retail and e-commerce stores all focused on tea. We would not be up to do this effectively (with minimal payroll expenses) without the use of computers and related technologies. It is odd to find myself drawn to technology when in actuality my main motivation to move into the tea sector was to escape high technology.

But my affinity for technological solutions is really geared at finding practical solutions for the problem at hand. I know this to be the case because one need only look at my cell phone, which by the way does not have any smartphone features, to know that I don't just buy technology for the sake of having it. Even my MP3 player still uses a standard rechargeable AA battery.

Having said that, here a list of essential tools that I would consider now to be indispensable.

1. Volusion. Volusion (  is our core e-commerce platform which includes web hosting, website design, and shopping cart functions. Volusion represents our third cycle of e-commerce platforms. The first was Microsoft bCentral, which was promptly dropped by Microsoft several years ago. The second was eBay's ProStore, which was more or less a template design nightmare. Volusion's  interface, customization capabilities, and total breath of functions has really been a blessing for our small business. Add on top of that true 24/7 customer support and you have a solution that is really built for around-the-clock maintenance and upgrades.

I know if you read some of the forums within Volusion, you will find a series of disgruntled clients. But overall I believe if you are truly focused on business and not a software developer at heart, you will quickly come to realize how this one tool can open up your imagination for marketing new products on the Internet.

Another subset of technologies we've come to rely on through our use of Volusion is SQL. I'm definitely not a computer programmer by any means, but learning a few stored queries (SELECT queries) has really helped harness the power of this system. By stored queries, I mean a routine way of pulling relevant data from a relational database. For example, we have stored queries we use to transfer data between the e-commerce system and our Sales/MRP system. This might include customer shipping address, item codes, prices, quantities, etc. We also use stored queries to view purchasing data and manage product pricing and descriptions. We can pull customer data automatically for creation of our product sample labels. We even have stored queries to grab data related to customer returns and feed it directly into excel and word.

Lastly, we use Volusion's implementation of Intuit's web connections to link this system with Quickbooks. In short, it automatically creates an itemized sales receipt for every transaction. By some standards, this is low tech. For us, it's just cool. Who wants to enter all this data manually?

I will continue with this list in future postings shortly.

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