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Amer Akhtar of Yahoo Small Business Speaks of Big Changes Coming

Yahoo Small Business

Yahoo Small Business, which aims to get small businesses up and running on the Web, debuted in the 1990s and has grown into a comprehensive resource.

Yahoo says its platform offers a wide variety of tools designed to help small businesses create a website or eCommerce site. Whether you require a domain name or business email program — or need to build an eCommerce site from the ground up, Yahoo Small Business aims to provide everything needed.

Now Yahoo Small Business wants to give its existing clients what they truly want — sales. The company is working to accomplish this by driving traffic to its clients’ websites using Yahoo’s tremendous online presence.

“We look beyond being a tools company,” Amer Akhtar, head of Yahoo Small Business, told Small Business Trends in an exclusive interview. “Small businesses want traffic and customers, and that is what we are going to help them get.”

Akhtar accepted his position at Yahoo Small Business’s helm last year but he’s not new to the small business realm. He previously spent 10 years at ADP, working on payroll software. Toward the end of his stint there he ran ADP’s China operations.

He returned to the San Francisco Bay area, where he’s from, and searched out opportunities related to software for small businesses, finally landing at Yahoo Small Business and that’s where he is today.



Yahoo Small Business was one of the first eCommerce platforms, but last year it was criticized for not changing much in the past decade, Allen Walton of SpyGuySecurity.com told [1] SF Gate. He added, Yahoo Small Business competes more with Shopify and BigCommerce than Amazon or eBay because it operates in the background.

Akhtar says he’s focused on transforming the platform since his hire. And the fact that the Yahoo unit operates in the background is certainly not a problem, based on what he’s heard from his most important critics — his clients.

In the interview, Akhtar said: “I spent the last six months speaking to small business clients. They sell what they sell through our platform. They are looking for simplicity. Background doesn’t matter. They want to see business coming out of whatever tool or product they use. Our charter is simplicity, transparency and a good return.”

In the interview, Akhtar also stressed the key reasons why small businesses should consider working with Yahoo Small Business to build their online presence. “The brand name implies safety, security, comfort,” he explained. “We have a strong consumer base and a robust buildable architecture that is really difficult to replicate.

“We are part of a very large consumer company,” Akhtar added, further describing Yahoo as a company with many divisions with a strong presence with which small businesses can partner. “There is really strong brand awareness,”  he added.



In terms of driving customers into clients’ online stores, Akhtar noted that Yahoo has over 1 billion users per month. “How cool would it be if we got some of those eyeballs on our merchants’ sites?” he asked.

This is one of the key reasons Yahoo developed Market St. [2], a Yahoo Shopping sub-site, and one of two major features launched in the past few months. The site was created to bolster distribution for Yahoo Small Business’s customers.

“We see synergy there driving users to our merchants’ sites and giving merchants access to those billions of views. That is very hard to replicate,” Akhtar explained. “We feature products exclusively from Yahoo Small Business merchants. Now our tens of thousands of eCommerce merchants — both new and existing – can have greater exposure.”

Market St. generates about 17 million page views per month, Akhtar said.



The other feature, unveiled last month, is Yahoo Merchant Solutions [3] (formerly Yahoo Store). The world’s largest eCommerce Web hosting provider, Merchants Solutions has also added adaptive mobile storefronts.

This means that all Merchant Solutions clients automatically are provided with a mobile-optimized version of their storefront.

The move was a response to a widely touted Google algorithm adjustment that penalizes websites not optimized for mobile.

Discussing some recent efforts, Akhtar mentioned Live Store Badge [4]. “It is a badge you see online next to your store. It highlights top-selling products in your store. It draws attention. We enhanced the badge to become a product picker, meaning it allows merchants to pick products they want to promote,” he said.



The inclusion of the badge alone has so far created more than $7 million in sales, Akhtar added.

Another trend in Yahoo Small Business’s offerings is providing tools, such as Coupon Manager, which is designed to allow small eCommerce sites to do the kinds of promotions typically common only among the larger e-tailers, he noted.

“Small businesses can behave like large merchants now. They can have store-wide discounts or single-product discounts. Also, they can track the coupon’s performance,” Akhtar said.

Launched last year, Yahoo Stores [5] — which is specifically designed for small business seeking to create an online store quickly — will be refreshed this year, he added.



Akhtar highlighted a Yahoo Small Business first regarding National Small Business Week: “For the first time, we launched a Google Hangout [6] for National Small Business Week,” Akhtar said. “We use it to discuss issues and questions about growing a business.”

Participating were Yahoo Small Business’s own experts as well as developer partners. Akhtar says, “The hosts are completely qualified in setting up a small business website, promoting it and getting customers.”

On its Tumblr blog [7], the company offered a sample of topics under discussion, including ways to find new customers and how to build your brand with social media.

“Our proposition is help small businesses get online and become successful,” Akhtar said, noting that this encompasses brick-and-mortar stores with an online presence as well as ecommerce businesses. “Basically, anyone with a website presence” stands to benefit from the range of tools and resources Yahoo Small Business provides.



Also coming up: Yahoo announced plans to spin off Yahoo Small Business this coming fourth quarter.

“That is a very exciting development,” Akhtar said. “It means we get to operate as an independent company with a sole focus on helping small business. We have that focus now, but as part of Yahoo.”

In addition, “we are seeing a lot of attention from third-party companies who want to work with us to promote our offering,” he added.

The integrations with the rest of Yahoo will remain in place, he said. “Yahoo is completely on board.”

“We are developing a lot of products and integrations with Yahoo,” Akhtar said. “As we become independent we can grow this business very quickly.”

Image: Yahoo!