Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
The Internet

Online Retailing Comes of Age 228

In the wake of the dot-com washout, a lot people nearly wrote off cyberspace as a retailing wasteland. But last week, Amazon reported that it had finally turned a profit, something most of us thought we'd never see, and preliminary figures show a sharp upturn in online sales despite the mild recession. Some other interesting post-Christmas tidbits are popping up, too: for the first time, more women than men are buying things online, a landmark barometer of a bright digital retailing future. Beyond that, in case you haven't noticed, online retailers are getting a lot smarter. The arrogant, customer-abusive tech world could learn a lot from these people, who offer steep discounts, stand behind their products, and actually offer real and free customer support.

The final Christmas shopping figures for 2001 are not in, but some industry analysts believe the new savvy and sensitivity of online retailers might have rescued the U.S. Christmas shopping season in the wake of September 11, when a lot of people either stayed home or tightened their belts. "I can't be quoted on this until the figures are finished," a friend and research analyst e-mailed me, "but I believe online shopping really saved retailing last year. The sites and service are getting so much better, and consumer confidence in them -- especially among women -- is skyrocketing. Online retailing is not only on the rise, it's really getting to be fun and easier. More importantly, they grasp customer service, something almost no software or hardware company yet does."

If that's so, and it definitely matches my personal shopping experiences, it's huge news for the Net. Consumers, chronically abused by the software and hardware industries, were initially anxious about buying things online. They worried about hackers, crackers and security; they faced poor customer service and complex downloading and other problems. But those problems -- unlike similar headaches in the larger computer industry -- are being addressed.

Retailers competing online this holiday season were a lot shrewder, says a story on About.com about the online retailing industry.

About.com cited a survey of 63 retailers who found a successful holiday season marked by a surprisingly effective combination of widespread promotions and discounting. Most consumers hate spam, but it doesn't bother them so much if it's about things they want, and if they're getting something for the attention. Both multichannel and Web-based retailers seemed to have learned a lot from past marketing missteps. The Shop.org/Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that more advanced retailers, after carefully studying the economics of each online and offline promotion, are finding ways to offer the minimum discounts necessary for increasing sales volume and ways to deliver targeted promotions to the more than 100 million consumers estimated to have used the Net over the holiday season.

Besides that, sites have radically improved their graphics and visual representations of products. As fears about theft and security have subsided, companies have radically upgraded their customer service. This is in striking contrast to tech industries which sell products that are confusing and difficult to use, and either makes themselves unavailable to confused or outraged customers or charge them extortionate fees for "priority service," which is really just the service they would be entitled to for free in any other business.

If you want to see smart web businesses, I'd cite two in particular -- L.L. Bean and Pet Food Direct. L.L. Bean's site architecture is brilliant -- well organized, easy to navigate. It shows clear pictures of all of its products and allows easy customer access to account information, while still providing security. More interestingly, the site offers customers several ways to get instant help -- phone, instant messaging, nearly instant e-mail response. If you're encountering problems, you can simply e-mail or call and a human will respond promptly. This support is crucial to building consumer confidence. A shopper is much more likely to risk buying something online if they know they can get help with any problems. Tech shoppers are among the most distrustful on the planet after years of confusing products and poor service.

Pet Food Direct also offers a different kind of targeted retailing, e-mailing customers weekly about specials, sales and promotions on the products they have already demonstrated they want and use regularly. This isn't quite like spamming, since it's stuff the buyer needs. And the sharp discounts have a way of offsetting any irritation. The site isn't trying to be funny or cute. Rather than promoting a silly sock puppet, it offers heavily discounted pet food and reminds pet owners when they are apt to need it. It also offers sophisticated graphic renderings of products and instant customer service both online and by telephone. The purchase takes seconds. The discounts are heavy enough to attract shoppers attention, but apparently not so heavy to erode profits. One reason is that the site, like L.L. Bean, gives the consumer a variety of shipping choices, from regular mail to next day air. And the customer pays for shipping, choosing exactly how much of a discount he or she wants. In both cases, the sites don't spam -- they target people who have bought and need their products.

Dozens of other sites have similarly polished their presentation, honed their sense of marketing and discounting and, most importantly, invested in tech support and customer service. Shoppers feel secure not only through repeated use, but through the sense that somebody will speak to them if problems arise.

This is something that, alas, computer and software companies still haven't learned.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Online Retailing Comes of Age

Comments Filter:
  • http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/archive/21862 .html [theregister.co.uk]

    Consumer confidence in ecommerce and the Internet is growing despite the effects of the weakening economy, according to a joint survey by Yahoo! and ACNielsen.

    It seems consumers are becoming more confident about disclosing their credit card details online and more trusting that goods they've ordered will be delivered.

    And it seems the growth in ecommerce sales comes against the backdrop that consumers realise buying online doesn't necessarily mean the goods will be cheaper than in the high street.

    Put together, these results helped the second wave of the Internet Confidence Index register a five point rise compared with June.

    Three months ago, the survey predicted that the US would spend $9.9 billion online during the third quarter. This time round analysts predict that the US will spend $16 billion online during Q4 in the run up to the holiday season.

    Critically, the survey found that the future growth of ecommerce depends on a strong Q4 and the opportunity it gives ecommerce novices to buy online.

    The research found that if these "light" Net users (those who use the Net less than once a day) have a good online shopping experience they're more likely to become regular eshoppers.

    And turning "light" users into "heavy" Net users is key to making ecommerce part of mainstream consumerism.

    Said Rob Solomon, VP and GM of Yahoo! Shopping: "The results have further confirmed what we have experienced over the last two holiday seasons; holiday shopping has become the impetus for light Internet users to shop online, many of whom in turn become regular online shoppers
  • I'm surprised he didn't talk more about Amazon's profit, as .coms making profits are clearly signs that online retailing has come of age.
    • not quite, they didn't make a profit by fudging numbers (pro forma), but they didn't make a profit by selling product, either.

      amazon has a large amount of cash on hand. they moved this around in the financial markets last quarter, and happened to make quite a killing. if this weren't factored in, they still lost money.

      so yes, Amazon.com made money from good business practices, but not from selling coffee table books.

  • So Amazon turns a profit. Big deal. Is there anyone here who didn't already think internet buying was here to stay? Bueler? Bueler?

    • No, it's opinion.
    • Last I checked /. is News for Nerds AND Stuff that matters. .coms truning profits MATTERS.
    • Amazon was handy for few things:

      Expen$ive programming manuals for ~$12 less

      Amazon.co.uk was where I could get the new Pratchett books with the original cover art, instead of the ugly Harper/Torch artwork done, probably by the CotB's nephew

      Obscure or out of print books

      Shipping has been a problem, tho, with one book taking 3+ weeks to get from Fernley NV to Santa Cruz CA, not the first time they blundered, either, less than impressed with ability to track, tho much of this rests on USPS shoulders as well (it's possible the first was in the wreck of a USPS semi on I-80 about the time the book would have shipped.)

      Software is a whole nother animal and with Egghead gone I'm not sure where to order that evil, proprietary, closed-source stuff I occasionally need. Programmer's Paradise? Any others. Amazon does carry software, and just about everything, but Imelda's shoes.

    • I think what might be interesting to some is the fact that Amazon continues to increase sales, even without the insane $10 of $15 plus free shipping coupons and such that they used to offer. Back when every online retailer was doing this, and then many of them went out of business, I remember hearing many "experts" saying that it was unlikely that internet based retailing could survive without these insane discounts.

      Remember that online, you usually can't pick up and examine the merchandise. To those with limited mental capacity, that would seem to indicate that online retailers are at a disadvantage compared to brick and mortar retailers. To those with a little more capacity for intellect, this doesn't matter - we all know we can go to a real store and examine goods and then still order them online for less. But those limited intellect "experts" didn't understand that and assumed that no one would want to buy something they hadn't checked out moments before.

      And of course, the other surprise about Amazon's profit is that I doubt many expected it this soon, given Amazon's prior cash-burn rate in the heyday of the "digital economy." I certainly didn't expect Amazon to be profitable during the death of the dot.gone and a recession to boot.

  • but what'll they do next quarter? i think I've got all the books i need, other than the Salmon of Doubt [amazon.com] with will finally be coming out, but heck, I can get that at the local book shop faster...
  • by joshamania ( 32599 ) <jggramlich@yaho o . com> on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:13PM (#2919633) Homepage
    ....most wall street analysts panned the profits made by Amazon in the first quarter. As a retailer, the last quarter (Oct/Nov/Dec) is supposed to be their biggest quarter of the year, and by a large margin. Amazon barely made a profit that quarter. Sales for the next three quarters are going to be significantly lower for Amazon, basically until the holiday season begins anew. I seriously doubt Amazon will make a profit for those three quarters, and will still be a bad investment for the next several years.

    Online retailing has not come of age.

    • Amazon does not exclusively represent online retailing. To judge online retails based on Amazon would be as foolish as judging discount stores on the now bankrupt K-Mart.

      Amazon was a pioneer. Sometimes pioneers get eaten by bears while exploring. Maybe these second generation online retailers have learned a thing a two from the experiments of previous businesses like Amazon and will be successful.

      Has online retail "come of age"? I have no idea. We won't really know until we can look back in persepective. But Amazon's problems certainly aren't solid evidence of online retails immaturity.

    • Not to disagree with your premise (because I also doubt that Amazon is anywhere near out of the woods), but in their defense I'd say that Amazon's costs are also proabaly highest in the holiday quarter. They stock more merchandise directly on-hand, expand their staff to handle the increased volume, and ship more items at promotional rates. They also will generally incur higher advertising costs as well.

      The model for retailers seems to be a couple of mediocre quarters, with a big profit during the holidays. Amazon seems to be on their way there, as the losses have been slowing down, but the next year is really the make-or-break year for them, I think.

      If their model is to be a catalog reseller, they're screwed. Just look at Fingerhut as a good example. One day they were the shining e-commerce wing of a major brick-and-mortar retailer chain. Now they're being shut down.

      I can see LL Bean being a better example, but even they've had tough times. They recently laid off a couple of hundred people, and they've diversified into storefronts and alternative brands (like Freeport Studio for women) to keep the business going. And they're private - Wall Street isn't a factor for them, either.
    • by HMV ( 44906 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @01:57PM (#2920253)
      Amazon's likely inability to maintain profit is their own problem and not an indication one way or the other whether online retailing has "come of age" (whatever that means).

      There are plenty of us privately-held small companies out here with revenues under 100 million making money consistently even in this economy with online sales - we're just not screaming FOR THE LOVE OF OUR STOCK PRICE LOOK AT US on the cover of (fill in trendy New Economy magazine). We left "dot coms" behind as a benchmark long ago - we were interested in growing a business, not getting a Webby. We do it from small towns you fly over and get no closer to Silicon Valley than changing planes in SFO on our way to meet with a new supplier in Asia. We like Amazon if it gets our customers familiar with the idea of using a website to place an order (and Amazon has our attention and respect by doing many, many things worth emulating in terms of providing service to their customers) - but as far as strategy and finance go, we have much better and suitable models to follow.

      Those who have been successful see this medium as simply another another sales channel, a mechanism to reduce expenses (particularly in transactions and support), and the extension of an already successful business model. We did not need 100 million of venture capital, an instant army of programmers, content managers costing half a million dollars, and consultants selling us "solutions". Instead the many silent successful firms grew our online sales channel just as we grew the rest of our business. Small at first, learn and add as necessary.

      Catalog companies like LL Bean or Lands End are successful because they have taken advantage of the medium, yes, but also because they already have a super-efficient logistics system in place. That's one reason I'm surprised Wal-Mart is not a bigger online player - distribution and logistics innovations are what made them untouchable in the traditional retail arena.
  • umm. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by raindog151 ( 157588 )
    why should this surprise anyone, considering all the dotcom's that were selling absolute garbage (flooz, etc) are now out of business, leaving only the stores that sell something people may want to buy? (amazon, etc)
  • A bit too early? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:15PM (#2919645) Homepage Journal
    I think its still a bit too early to talk about ecommerce booming.

    This is what happened with the dotcom hype. People jumped on the bandwagon too early, and got shot down. I'd be interested in seeing a report on ecommerce in like 2-5 years.
  • Your point is? (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by sandman935 ( 228586 )

    Hmmm... Amazon turned a profit, someone knows more about this topic at about.com than you and you like LL Bean's website. So what?

    oh... and this is rich...

    Most consumers hate spam, but it doesn't bother them so much if it's about things they want, and if they're getting something for the attention.

    Like what? An X10 camera?

  • by sawilson ( 317999 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:16PM (#2919653) Homepage
    Hello There,

    Being in the middle of nowhere (Upstate Pennsylvania), with the closest mall being about an hour away, almost all my shopping for "special" and "hard to find" things takes place online. I easily spend 80 percent of my alloted "mad money" online. If only FedEx and UPS would commit to getting packages here on time. See, if you are in some areas that they deem "remote", they don't honor any type of delivery guarantee.
    • Online record sales seem to be a godsend (at least for me). While I love digging in record warehouses (speaking vinyl here), the web is the best method for finding EXACTLY what you want and getting it in mint condition (if not return it). Just figure out how to get UK-US shipping costs down pls! :).
      • Go here! [insound.com] Now! I'm not sure about Insound's UK shipping policies, but they frequently have 20% off on vinyl, and I remember a few free shipping specials. Most records are well under US$10. Of course, I just blew my moderator points by posting to this thread, but I just had to jump in there.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:16PM (#2919657)
    Anyone who thinks Amazon is a high tech company is dreaming. It's nothing more than a catalog retailer like Fingerhut or LL Bean. Jack Welch, ex-CEO of GE even commented on this. Everyone thought that some of these .com's were tech when they were building warehouses to distribute books and CD's like many present day companies. And these same people were calling GE a dinosaur while they were researching the latest in plastics, jet engines and other high tech stuff.

    In the crazy times of the last few years Amazon overpaid for the land where the warehouses are based, and for the warehouses themselves. I've heard that they are only at 30% of capacity or so year round except for the holiday season. Instead of being high tech, Amazon has had to master such things as distribution channels and inventory management. Concepts that are decades old and have been perfected by old time competitors suchas Wal Mart.

    Then there is the debt. Around $2 billion worth. If Amazon can convert the debt to stock then it would free up tens of millions in free cash flow and really let them invest in the business and grow.
    • You're only partially right. To say that Amazon is not a high tech firm is not quite fair. Amazon is the largest e-retailer and their traffic volume figures are quite staggering. I can't remember exactly but I believe that amazon websites handle more than 60 million unique sessions a month in the USA alone. That is a huge volume of traffic that few other enterprise applications have managed to achieve. It takes a lot of high tech know how in the company to build an application that scales to that kind of traffic.
    • Amazon provided a new customer interface- one the catalog companies and Walmarts don't get yet. OK, everyone has a catalog on line now. Amazon was the first to do this for books. Amazon has custom ads, based on a customer's buying and surfing habits. Amazon distills its sales patterns - what subgroups are buying, best-seller lists.

      I do agree that perhaps they should not have gotten so much into the "bricks" and built warehouses, etc.
    • you obviously don't know very much about amazon.com's internal model. despite the rise in held inventory, amazon.com continues to operate what we termed "almost-in-time" stock handling, which was (and mostly still is) a completely different model than that used by any other mail order retailer at the time. Walmart don't do it, LL Bean doesn't do it, and neither does Sears. this model required a totally different set of software to be written. the existing off-the-shelf inventory management systems that were available in 1994 all assumed that you either had items in stock, or they were on back order, or you had dropped the item. despite some head scratching, there was no way to convert this model into the one amazon.com was going to use, so we had to write our own code. i know this because i wrote that code.
  • I always thought that online sales would cause a major decline in physical stores. You can move as much merchandise with so many fewer people, store locations, etc. You can offer lower prices, enough to displace shipping.

    Of course there will always be a demand for physical retail, but we are seeing lots of retail chains gonig through ahrd times.
    • You know I thought this also. But for some reason Amazon has not been able to sell for less. I think that the online retailers will have to survive on their breadth of stock rather than the low prices.
    • by 2Flower ( 216318 )

      While I doubt all retail will die, I can see certain branches of it dying.

      For instance, I used to be such a regular customer at EBX that the sales staff knew me by name. I do appreciate that personal relationship and the customer service... but why should I spend 40 minutes driving to and from the mall (which is now farther away thanks to moving a few miles to a new house) when I can go Click, Click, Boom and have the same game delivered to me two days later? The wait is worth the convenience. I haven't been to EBX in awhile, as a result. Amazon gets my buys.

      Packaged goods, things that don't change in quality (CDs, books, movies, consumer items, and such) are simply easier to obtain over the web. No need to inspect the box; reviews and opinions are online and the item you buy is the same as the item anyone else would buy. The Yes/No buy decision doesn't need to be compounded by the hassles of real-world consumer retail.

    • While my earlier post to the original article makes this statement redundant, it applies to this response. People still want to be able to touch/feel/try-on what they buy; not to mention group shopping trips.
      • People still want to be able to touch/feel/try-on what they buy; not to mention group shopping trips.

        Depends on the product - I certainly don't need to touch/feel/try on a DVD, or video game. However, I'd NEVER buy clothes online.
        • Re:"Death" of Retail (Score:2, Interesting)

          by darien ( 180561 )
          Do they have things like the Kays catalogue in the States?

          Here (in the UK), the catalogues are very popular with girls: you get a free ~1Kpage glossy catalogue to flick through, and if you see anything you like, you just return the (pre-paid) form, stating the garment number and your size. The thing arrives in a few weeks, and shortly afterwards you get a statement (and a new catalogue every season). So long as you pay off something like 5% of what you owe them every month, you're free to keep on ordering until your wardrobe bursts.

          Seems to me that if this is a viable business model, surely people could be persuaded to sign up for an internet-based equivalent, particularly if they delivered the goods as quickly as Amazon (often I used to order books, standard delivery, last thing in the evening before I left work at 5pm; and would come in at 8am the next morning to find them waiting on my desk).
  • by Tattva ( 53901 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:18PM (#2919667) Homepage Journal
    FrontLine's "Dot.Con" [pbs.org] edition had some numbers that shed some light on the e-retailing situation. IIRC (unfortunately the transcript is not yet on the website), it was a mother nature.com CEO discussing a review of the numbers for his business, and he found that it cost $80 in advertising, etc costs to get a customer, but that customer's marginal value, the odds of the customer having return visits to the site, and the profit margin from that customers future purchases, was only $10.

    I suppose it could be that there is enough room for a few big e-retailers since the really big ones get free customer awareness since they have more mind share, but those numbers speak to a real difficulty to get a sustainable business online due to low customer loyalty inherent when there is no geographic locality and hence no physical reality to such retailers. It could be that Amazon is merely reaping the high advertising costs in previous quarters and will tank once that mind share that cost so dearly to develop wears off.

    • it was a mother nature.com CEO discussing a review of the numbers for his business, and he found that it cost $80 in advertising, etc costs to get a customer, but that customer's marginal value, the odds of the customer having return visits to the site, and the profit margin from that customers future purchases, was only $10.

      This is about the most important thing you can know about your customers. I saw the show (Frontiline is the best thing on TV IMHO) and essentially what he said was that they felt justified in spending $80 to $100 to get a customer because online customers were supposed be to be very valuable. In the end, the average margin he took in from one of these customers was only $10, so the whole thing fell down. This is the single biggest factor in the fall down of most online retailers. Everybody assumed that it was worthwhile to spend $100 to get somebody in the door online but it wasn't true, it is almost the same value traditional retailers get per customer if not less .

      This is a very interesting part of marketing, and the reason I am thinking about making a career switch to marketing weasel. It is a really challenging proposition to sit down in front of all your customer data and try and figure out who the valuable ones are and why.

      I don't think most people realize what a jewel Amazon's customer information is. When you look at the stuff they track on people's buying habits it is just amazing. Everybody sees the "you might also liek this book" part but think about this, you have someone who has purchased the 5 most popular books this year, all 2 to 3 months before they became hot sellers. Want to know what is going to be the next bestseller? watch what that guy buys. That is a pretty simplified example but this stuff really does work, and aside from maybe The MTV Group, Amazon.com is the very best in the business.

  • by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) <[ten.lemmuhnhoj] [ta] [lemmuhj]> on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:18PM (#2919671) Homepage
    One of my personal frustrations with some Internet shopping is how terribly some sites are put together.

    In too many cases, it's an event of "I want to buy this - where do I go to find it?" And after wading through too many pages just to figure how how to buy an additional battery for a laptop, when all I should have to do is click on "laptops - maker - model - accessories" I'll finally give up and call my CompUSA (hey, not my choice - my company has an account with them) just to get the job done.

    Then I go over the Amazon. And while I complain about the whole "targeted ads" market, I like how they do it. They show new anime titles I might not have heard of, or books that I may be interested in, and occasionally buy when I say "Hm...Niel Gaiman's American Gods - I've been wanting to read it anyway", filter out the ones I tell them I own, and generally make it *easy* to find what I'm looking for. I'll usually check them first even if I don't think they carry it, just in the hopes that maybe they do.

    The most important thing any online company can do when selling products: Let me find what I'm looking for. That's all I ask for, and all I expect. I don't want shockwave, or animated .gif files, or anything that takes away from me *finding what the hell I want to spend my money on*.

    I just can't figure out why so many online stores are dead set on keeping me from buying anything.

    Of course, I could be wrong.
    • One of my personal frustrations with some Internet shopping is how terribly some sites are put together.

      It is your DUTY to tell e-tailers that their sites suck! If you don't take the time to explain how badly their shopping cart or catalog browsing is, don't complain here. I certainly take the time to let everyone know, in clear descriptive terms how it doesn't work. They've often put a lot of money (or just got suckered for a lot) into building the site or contracting it out and if you don't tell them it's bad, it'll certainly stay bad. Don't feel you're too small a fish for your opinion to matter, it's the one or two church-ladies out there who complain to the paper with a circulation of 700,000 that get a strip dropped because they never got any.

      • Actually, it it *not* my "duty" to tell e-businesses that their sites suck.

        My voting is done with my dollar. If I can find what I want, I buy it. If I can't, I go somewhere else that can do the job for me.

        That's all the information they need from me. Last time I checked, McDonald's doesn't go "Gee, nobody complains that the McCrap Burger doesn't sell", they say "Gee, nobody fucking buys the McCrap Burger - cancel it!".

        Than again, I'm also a typical american bastard who feels my time is too important to waste it telling other people how to do their job.
        • That's all the information they need from me. Last time I checked, McDonald's doesn't go "Gee, nobody complains that the McCrap Burger doesn't sell", they say "Gee, nobody fucking buys the McCrap Burger - cancel it!".

          There's a difference there. It's the difference between bad products, and bad presentation. What if a website had the best prices you've seen, but it was impossible to find the product you're looking for easily?

          People not buying products could mean that the product sucks, or that they can't find them. The store has no way of knowing which one unless you tell them.

          If the product sucks, screw em. But if the products are good, and you just have trouble navigating, making sure the site is improved may be worth the time you'd take to send them feedback.
          • I'm sorry, and I don't mean to engage in a flamewar or anything, but I totally disagree.

            Marketing is as important to a business as the product is. Sadly, some companies (Microsoft) have only good marketing (which is the only reason why they're still around), while other companies (Novell) have crappy marketing but great products (which is the only reason why they're still around).

            But a true business (ie: people who expect to get paid for what they do) needs advertising just as much as it does good products. And as a consumer, I can't be expected to call up these companies all the time and say "Gee, I *love* NDS! But would you get your heads out of your asses and try putting some public commercials on that make sense instead of a bunch of damn goldfish that would probably eat each other if you put them in one big tank?"

            The store should find out when people don't buy their fucking product. That means either a) the product is bad, or b) their marketing is bad. I'm sure if McDonald's had an advertisement that showed Michael Jackson raping babies, then discovered that their McKid's meal didn't sell, somebody would say "Hm...is it the meals or the ads? Let's change one and see what happens." And if that didn't work, they'd finally try changing the product. Or hire people to do polls.

            *It is not my job to tell companies how to sell things. My job is to decide if I want to buy it based on the product and their marketing.* If they ask me and offer me $5 to tell them what's wrong (or a free toaster, or one of those red vibrators), then I'll be happy to tell them. Otherwise, they can kiss my ass if they think I'm just going to look all over their site for an email address and say "Hey, I couldn't find your Raspberry Flavored Snack bites because your system uses IE based javascript tags my browser couldn't read. Could you alter these pretty please?" I don't get paid to do other people's jobs.

            Those that adapt and learn live. Those that don't die, and good riddance to them. If there's anything I've learned from the dot.com bust, it's that marketing without product doesn't mean shit (unless you've got $32 billion in cash, not stock), products without marketing is shit (because nobody buys it), and that Linus Torvalds gives me a damn woody.
    • >> when all I should have to do is click on "laptops >> - maker - model - accessories" I'll

      ( I hope I get the html right)

      http://www.pricegrabber.com [pricegrabber.com]

      Home > Computers > Notebooks & Accessories > Batteries & Adapters

      http://www.pricegrabber.com/search_attrib.php/page _id=32 [pricegrabber.com]

      DONE, as a bonus, you get the cheepest price :)

      I work at pricegrabber

  • Other smart sites (Score:2, Interesting)

    I must say I'm impressed with a lot of different automobile manufacturing sites, esp. Honda's [honda.com], for example. They give you an in depth (typically no hype) look at the car from all angles letting you customize the car and see the net effect. Another good car site is Carmax's [carmax.com]. The info is always very up to date, the price you get quoted IS the price, you can see the car, buy the car, have the car shipped from one carmax to another, etc. etc. I have never doubted the 'net's ability to be an excellent tool for sales. It's real downfall is the inability to "feel/hold" the product. However, if your clever about how you display and advertise your product, the web seems to be the best medium for buying products that are either unavailable locally or too expensive locally; or, as in Automobile sites, allows you to shop at home and go out more informed on what choices you may make.
    • Of course, if you're shopping for a Honda you should swing by here [riceboypage.com] to shop for your accessories to get that bee under the hood buzzing just right. With the right stickers and wings, even a Honda can go fast :)
  • sigh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gannoc ( 210256 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:19PM (#2919677)

    >This is something that, alas, computer and
    >software companies still haven't learned.

    Gateway and Dell is a pretty big difference from Amazon, LL Bean, and pet food. People buy media, books, food, clothes on a monthly basis.

    I mean, do you think Dell should send emails saying, "As someone who bought a hard drive in the recent past, you might be interested in our hard drive specials this week!"

    Different businesses, different marketing. Then again, you didn't have to think about it because you're Jon Katz, and its been demonstrated that your articles don't have to make sense.
    • Re:sigh. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dr. Dew ( 219113 )
      Ad hominem aside, I think you're right about the computer business being different (for the majority of consumers) from the clothing business.

      I also think the article is pretty optimistic about how well non-computer retailers "get it." For example, Mrs. Dew is with child now, and I made the mistake of ordering some clothes from A Pea in the Pod's online presence. Handy tip to online retailers: if *you* send the wrong merchandise, you'd better fall all over yourself to make it right, because otherwise, we won't be buying your overpriced swag again.

      On the other hand, I've dealt with a few small businesses whose web sites weren't exemplary, but were adequate to get me engaged, and whose customer service made me a very happy customer. These include non-computer businesses such as Sunburst Shades [sunburstshades.com] and computer businesses such as Delta Marketing Group [dmgi.net].

      While Jon seems to be claiming that peddlers of general merchandise are doing better than peddlers of computers/software, I don't think this conclusion is at all borne out in my experience. The industry or vertical market a business is in seems to have little bearing on how positive they make their web shopping experience.
  • Jon, I think I finally need to just tell you that need to learn a bit about, oh, say JOURNALISM!

    I usually don't touch your articles because frankly, the usually suck. Occasionly you make a good point, but I mostly attribute that to "even a broken clock is right twice a day" syndrome.

    If you are going to write articles about online retailing you really need to do a lot more than check out two sites that do it well in your opinion and then make broad unsupported claims about the "software and hardware companies".

    Do some actual... oh I don't know, research! One of your sister sites, ThinkGeek does an *excellent* job with their site as does Crucial Memory.

    Also, I know you must be an uber-geek and build your own rigs, but even so, you really should check out DELL or the Apple store to see some big name hardware retailers that really do get it.

    If you are going to use Slashdot as your personal soapbox, that's fine. Just have something to say rather than just talking out of your ass.
  • by sllort ( 442574 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:21PM (#2919693) Homepage Journal
    Amazon reported that it had finally turned a profit, something most of us thought we'd never see

    I was pretty sure that I personally would see a profit this year, and I was right. Jon - are you projecting?
    You're reading Managed Agreement [slashdot.org].
  • by Multiple Sanchez ( 16336 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:22PM (#2919699)
    1. The www has been pruned. A million tiny/rediculous e-tailers have all chapter 11'ed. echeesegratersolutions.com is no more. Consumers' online shopping has become focused.

    2. Juggernauts like Amazon.com have weathered the storm and can finally mark up their goods a bit. They got our attention with low prices and cheap delivery, taking enormous losses. Now we're used to Amazon-ing all our Christmas presents and don't mind paying a little extra for it.
    • by danger42 ( 302987 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @01:50PM (#2920219) Homepage

      echeesegratersolutions.com is available
      Price $29.00/year

      Other Names You Might Like Price

      echeesegratersolutions.net $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.biz $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.info $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.tv $50.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.org $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.ws $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.cc $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolutions.bz $29.00/year
      echeesegratersolution.com $29.00/year
      echeesesgratersolutions.com $29.00/year
      echeesegraterssolutions.com $29.00/year
      edairygratersolutions.com $29.00/year
      edairiesgratersolutions.com $29.00/year
  • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:23PM (#2919707) Homepage Journal
    The failure of so many dot-coms is not an indication that selling on the Internet is doomed to failure. All that this shows us is that an ill-conceived business won't be made miraculously transformed into a success by simply registering a domain name and putting up a web site.

    Look at some of the idiotic failures:

    Pet food sold over the Internet. Pet food is normally about 35 cents per can. So people are going to order it over the Internet for the big savings?

    The Netpliance i-opener Internet appliance is another great example. They were selling them for $99 and taking about a $300 loss and they intended to make all of that loss back up with subscriber fees to their Internet service. One problem: You could buy the thing and never sign up or decide to stop using it after a few months.

    Then there were all of the sites that decided that they would provide expensive, high-bandwidth content for free and support themselves with banner ads. Great idea if you already have a HUGE user base, but pretty dumb if you don't.

    Investors may be running scared, but a company with a desirable service or product that is priced attractively (and profitably) is still a good bet. And it doesn't matter if they sell in the mall or on the Internet.
  • Customer Support? (Score:5, Informative)

    by greggish ( 319517 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:23PM (#2919709) Homepage Journal
    From the article: "The arrogant, customer-abusive tech world could learn a lot from these people, who offer steep discounts, stand behind their products, and actually offer real and free customer support."

    ...Don't you realize that one of the cost cutting measures Amazon undertook over a year ago was to eliminate telephone customer support. To the contrary of what the article is trying to point out, I don't think it bodes well for ecommerce, when the larger player in the industry says "DO NOT CALL US".
    • You need support for buying....a book? Listen, I know sometimes you have to talk to a company especially when things don't go right. But maybe, just maybe, Amazon.com figured out how to design a nice, coherent site and designed a nice, coherent backend to support the site that hardly anything ever goes wrong! Also, if I am buying something online, it only makes too much sense I should be able to get the support online (take that stamps.com....they want you to call to cancel your account...I e-mailed them and got them to do it.....). Also, some of the things the dot coms were trying to hawk online made no sense....groceries? I mean Peapod had it going. It was a neat idea, but they wanted to charge you like 5 bucks extra? No way I will get in my car and put 5 bucks of gas in my tank and do it myself. Besides, do I realy want to trust a 6 dollar an hour clerk to pickout a good tomatoe?

      Now Think Geek! There's a place I like. It has a focused product set (geek toys and schwag) and some things they have I can't find anywhere but Think Geek. I have been able to find Penguin Mints at Meijer, but try finding things like Jolt in all of it's flavors, XTZ tea, Hyper Caffinated coffee and computer books all in one place. I have no idea how they are doing, but I do know I occasionally buy stuff from them. I do it because they have unique products I can't find anywhere else. It's just a bonus that it helps Slashdot out.
  • This whole thing is a major "duh". Of course businesses can be profitable using the web. And since investment money is no longer available for those that can't/don't make profits, businesses are starting out looking to be profitable, rather than letting profitability be "a detail to be worked out later."

    This is the nature of the capitalist system. It adjusts and adapts to profitability, and is essentially agnostic regarding the means. Internet, fax, mail-order, customer service, whatever you need to do to sell your product or service.

    When you boil it down, Jon Katz is telling us something that we all know, which is the basic fundamentals of a capitalist market system. Will he next go to the hospital maternity ward and tell us how "An amazing revolution is taking place where humans are reproducing other humans. My worries that the species will go extinct are over!"

  • Pro Forma (Score:1, Informative)

    by SirSlud ( 67381 )
    Doesn't anyone think it's worth mentioning that wall street continues to rely on pro forma earnings reports to euphamize the lack of a real profit?

    Also, as it was already pointed out, the 4th quarter is the most profitable .. they are unlikely to have a (pro forma) profit in the next few quarters, from what I understand.
    • Re:Pro Forma (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ummmm, no. amazon posted a real profit. not pro forma. http://money.cnn.com/2002/01/22/technology/amazon/ index.htm
  • by handelaar ( 65505 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:27PM (#2919732)

    Some other interesting post-Christmas tidbits are popping up, too

    Yeah, at my house they're all the fucking Xmas presents that didn't show up in December.

  • Sure, a lot of people were skeptical of for example, pets.com, who threw a ton of money into marketing but failed to deliver a decent product. So what this tells us is that the online stores that actually HAVE A LEGIT BUSINESS MODEL can and often flourish. Basic thought must have slipped away from a lot of companies online.

    I can see the thinking behind their sites now:

    Hmm, people will want to come to our site to browse for clothing. I know, rather than display articles of clothing at a nicely discounted price, let's show them a monkey!

    Hey look at the monkey, make the monkey swing!!
    btw, if you like our site, or our monkey, here's a way for us to spam you to oblivion with stupid stuff you won't want! Yeah, we are gonna make a profit now!!

    Yes, I am slightly exaggerating, but damn, stupid sites won't make money...nough said
  • by st0rmshad0w ( 412661 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:29PM (#2919738)
    Jon, did you happen to see how big Amazon's debt is? As small a profit as they turned is pretty much nothing considering how far in the whole they are as a company. Kinda of like raving about a "budget surplus" while the country still carries a monsterous deficit.
  • In my experience, far too many online retailers are shady.
  • by Requiem ( 12551 )
    Amazon? Profit? It's like there's these words coming out of your mouth, but I don't know what you're saying.
  • I'm having trouble understanding what the writer is comparing.

    The point, as I understand it, is that Amazon, et. al. are doing well because they have philosophically distanced themselves from the "tech" industry in terms of their treatment of customers.


    Could it be that the author made the connection between people like Amazon and people like Symantec because they both ended in .com? Because otherwise, I don't see a valid comparison.

    It seems to me that the writer is making the claim that the .com implosion was the result of "tech culture", and that the answer to the e-commerce question is to expunge Internet culture from Internet business.
  • Two comments:

    One thing Katz didn't mention was the importance of an online retailer having a "brick and mortar" presence. Amazon takes orders for Toys 'R Us and Target. Other stores strongly link their online stores with their B&M chains. For example, Best Buy and Circuit City allow you to return purchases made online. However, Staples treats their online store as if it were a completely different entity. Last I heard, Staples.com was still loosing money hand over fist.

    There was one thing Katz got dead on: it's all about women. Men buy stuff, but women shop. Ever go to a department store like Macy's? All of the men's stuff is in one spot in the store. Women's clothing is spread out over different floors. I think you are going to see the successful online retailers try to find out what women want in an online shopping experience and try to make it a reality. If so, returning merchandise is going to be a big thing for women. Obviously, the B&M retailers have an advantage here. Why go through the bother of shipping it back when you could drop it off during your errands?
  • Nothing New (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Prof_Dagoski ( 142697 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:32PM (#2919762) Homepage

    Online retailing hasn't come of age because "online" retailing as a separate type of retail business doesn't really exist. Most of the retailing going on is nothing more than another form of catalog retailing. The only real difference is that the retailer's catalog is more widely available. The people who've done well in online retailing are the people who've done well in catalog sales. LL Bean is a good example that. I dunno if Amazon is an example of much of anything other than how to siphon off VC funds.

    The interesting field of online commerce to me is that of retailing services online and brokering. Neither of these has really come of age yet. However, Ebay has been an early success in the area of brokering goods and services. Online travel is another success in this area. I mean how many of us actually buy airline tickets through an agent anymore?

  • Does anyone know where I can get a weather report
    for hell? I bet it is cold.
  • by ratguy ( 248395 )
    Amazon turned a profit?

    You know, I knew it was getting a little cold down here, but I never saw this coming.
  • This is in striking contrast to tech industries which sell products that are confusing and difficult to use, and either makes themselves unavailable to confused or outraged customers or charge them extortionate fees for "priority service," which is really just the service they would be entitled to for free in any other business.
    I'm not so sure. Does a lawyer give legal advice to all his customers for free? Software companies are in the business of supporting technology, so it shouldn't be too surprising that they usually don't give free tech support.
  • I'm king of off topic here (be kind moderators) but I was just wondering: where does everyone buy their computer components online? I check pricewatch all the time, but you can never get good deals on more than one part from the same vendor, so when you add in shipping on each individual piece coming from ten different locations, you're not really saving that much.
    • Pricewatch turns up a lot of dishonest vendors. I cross-reference price-watch hits with reseller ratings [resellerratings.com]. Over time, I developed a few favourite vendors that proved reliable and had good service. There's only so much I'm prepared to do to save a dollar, especially when saving that dollar often costs you the peace of mind that dealing with an honest vendor gives you.
  • by Codex The Sloth ( 93427 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:43PM (#2919827)
    In the wake of the dot-com washout, a lot people nearly wrote off cyberspace as a retailing wasteland.

    Yes, people are stupid that way just as before they argued, on slim evidence, that online retailing would change everything.

    The final Christmas shopping figures for 2001 are not in, but some industry analysts believe the new savvy and sensitivity of online retailers might have rescued the U.S. Christmas shopping season in the wake of September 11, when a lot of people either stayed home or tightened their belts.

    Ahhhh, I see, so the same idiots who wanted to predict the future and have been wrong in the past, are now pontificating on how they were wrong (again) and that they have a new prediction. Tell ya what. How about we wait for a few quaters of profitability (nay, a few years) before we start spouting off on how in the future, all work will be done by shiny metal robots before. Until then, I'm not devoting anymore cycles to analysts, futarists, pundits, Jon Katz or any of the other self-important wankers whose parasitic existence distract those of us who actually, ya know, DO THINGS WITH OUR LIVES!

  • E-commerce is just a fancy name for mail order, except with a computer. Sears-Roebuck has been doing the same damn thing for the last 100 years...except you sent them an order form or phoned it in. Now you can use your computer...Big frigging deal! THAT's how you gotta look at "e-commerce"...just glorified bloody mail-order, NOT some sort of "magic bullet" where people will be compelled to throw you money because your site's "pretty" or "clever"...
    • E-commerce is just a fancy name for mail order, except with a computer.

      And yet, I've never ordered anything via mail order, ever. But, I order stuff online all the time. I've spent thousands of dollars online at dozens of retailers. So, if it's exactly the same thing, why do I use it, but don't use mail order?

      You could make the argument that I'm just irrational. That's fine, but it still doesn't change the fact that there is something about e-commerce that appeals to me (as a consumer), and mail order doesn't.
  • Jon Katz wants tech companies to offer free tech support. Free software + Free tech support = 0 Profits. We can't offer everything for free.
  • by mttlg ( 174815 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @12:56PM (#2919891) Homepage Journal
    "I can't be quoted on this until the figures are finished," a friend and research analyst e-mailed me, "but I believe online shopping really saved retailing last year."

    Never tell Katz you can't be quoted - that's one challenge you can be sure he'll take on.

  • Price comparisons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @01:03PM (#2919928)
    When buying through the Internet, comparing prices is much easier than when buying in brick-and-mortar(-and-cement) shops. At the same time, as users became more experienced, they discover Price Comparison sites (to find beter prices) and search engines (to find other e-shops) - thus increasing the ability of finding beter prices.

    The resulting price erosion decreases the e-shops profits.

    In order two compensate for this, e-shops can take one of two paths:
    - Reduce costs
    - Compete on features - differenciate from the competiotion.

    The first path is the one being taken by Amazon - they are trying to use their size to increase efficiency in the package and delivery (ie a small number of big warehouses with efficient - and expensive - automated processes) thus decreasing costs. Since they are competing on prices, prices cannot easily go. On the other end of the scale, it gets increasingly difficult to cut costs (the same rule as in software development applies - the first 10% of investment get you 90% of the improvment). Increasing profits in this situation is thus a difficult task.

    The second option is to offer exclusive/improved features than the competition. E-shops have great difficulty in differenciating from the competition in anything other than prices. Site structuring is getting similar, and any e-shop with the necessary basic structure in place (web catalog with search engine) can compete in price with the greatest of the industry. Extra web-based-facilities like costumer reviews are in practice lightly-coupled to the buy - you can easily search books in Amazon, check the costumer reviews, and then go buy it somewhere else.
    At the same time, differenciation in more physical properties (like fast deliver and swift costumer service) presents e-shops in a less then ideal light by comparison with traditional shops (the fastest delivery is going to a bricks&mortar shop, buy something an take it home)

    In the end this will mostly be good for the consumer:
    - The ones that are more interested in spending less money will find cheaper prices.
    - The ones more interested in features will be offered all sorts of special (and as of yet unimagined) features by both b&m-shops and e-shops.

    Are we there yet? I don't think so!
    • Amazon to me competes on features more than anything - wish lists, better user commentary than anywhere else (for most things), targeted ads that actually sometimes provide good suggestions, great shipping (generally very fast and well packed).

      A lot of times I can find things I want a bit cheaper elsewhere, but I order from Amazon anyway as I can be pretty sure things will go well and I'll get what I want quickly.

    • It seems Amazon wanted to not compete entirely. That seems to be part of the motivation behind selling for less than profit. Kill off the competition so that they can later make a nice profit margin which would be otherwise difficult for an online service since price comparison is too easy.
  • C- (Score:2, Funny)

    by maniac11 ( 88495 )
    Does anybody else have flashbacks to high-school research reports when reading Katz articles? I'd give this one a C minus: valid theme, no thesis.
  • is with companies that think they have to do a complete site redesign every 2-3 months. changing where things are radically instead of better organization. I dont care that Company A just hired a $500,000 a year graphic artist for their website.... The $50.00 clipart CD graphics are fine in my eyes, I want ease of use, full information and ease of purchase, and screw the overdesigned and over changed ideas.
  • by RodeoBoy ( 535456 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @01:14PM (#2920009) Homepage
    According to some beyond the usual holiday season spending fest, as mentioned above, Amazon also add to their profits by making money due to the flux of the Europian currencies against the USD in the money markets due to the Euro introduction. So after millions of dollars and several years they still can't create a ligitimate profit. And I am happy because?

    Also from my experience internet service has not improved and the interfaces that sites are using to process orders and give service is still generally poor. Unfortunately I do not think that the Darwinian law of Survival of the Fittest really applies to the last tech sector down turn. Unless the fittest means those that still have financing in place. The death rate on the internet may have dropped, but there is still more to come.

  • They may have a nice web site, but they have a history of not confirming email addresses.

    Many a time have I had to go in and change somebody's password to "asshole" and their email address to "postmaster@llbean.com" so I'd stop getting their misdirected email from their unconfirmed signup with a typoed domain. It's another one of the reasons I changed my mailer configuration back to bouncing misdirected mail.
  • Keep in mind that several BAD companies also turn online retailing into profits as well though. Tiger Direct is downright fraudulent. I had to get two seperate charges reversed before I learned my lesson with them. Bait-and-switch, billed w/o consent for 4th-world replacement, etc. You name it, Tiger will do it.

    And good luck with their 800 number. When you call it you're informed that it is now a toll call, and the average wait time is 55 minutes!
  • by JahToasted ( 517101 ) <toastafari@noSpaM.yahoo.com> on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @01:29PM (#2920106) Homepage
    1. I like to be able to see the product before I buy it. Pick it up, feel how much it weighs, what it looks like

    2. I like going out seeing people, meeting new people

    3. I don't want to have to wait a month for them to replace my product, if it doesn't work, I want to beable to go back to the store and return it that day.

    online retailing won't replace the real thing the same way television didn't replace the movie theatre. Many people, especially women, like shopping.

  • Yes - Yes - Yes (Score:3, Informative)

    by SomeOtherGuy ( 179082 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @01:46PM (#2920188) Journal
    I am so happy -- I thought the next article from Katz was going to be about the plight of the Afghan day traders --- and how the taliban had put the hurt on their ability to get out before the dot coms went south.
  • Most consumers hate spam, but it doesn't bother them so much if it's about things they want, and if they're getting something for the attention.

    I'm not knocking your story or anything. But the definition of spam is important. If I buy a product at an online retailer, and thus give away my address, I don't mind them sending me advertisements for things similar to what I've bought in the past. I don't considert that to be spam. It's controlled. It only comes from companies that I've directly done business with. However, if one of the companies SELLS my e-mail address and I start getting advertisements from other companies for similar products, we now have a problem. I've never done business with these companies, and I'm getting unsolicited e-mail from them. That's spam. I don't care whether the products interest me or not. Getting 50 e-mails a day from different companies I've never heard of advertising deep discounts on 100GB hard drives isn't going to please me, no matter how good the discount is.

    Having said all of that, I still think any good retailer should include an opt-in box when you're providing them with your e-mail address. That way, they only send you advertisements if you want them.

  • Comparing Amazon's 'free' customer support to a tech company's customer suppport is right up there with comparing today's gas station attendant to an auto mechanic. Amazon's support staff is generally tasked with "Where do I find", "I haven't received . ." and "I need to return" as opposed to "I have 30 users getting timed out of our system because of a deadlock on XYZ table", "How can I set up this web app to support double-byte", or "I'm getting a client java.io.IOException; fix it".
    BOTH are customer service issues, and BOTH are huge opportunities for a company to shine in the relationship department with their clients. However, neither of them are free. While one may not charge the customer up front for the service, both of them generate overhead in the form of manpower, office space and benefits (remember those?). New concept here: the purpose of a business is to Make Money; not sure, but I think that is why they call it a business. So, if one is not charging for their customer service, chances are good that they are either rolling up the cost into their product prices, averaging the support costs over their entire customer base, OR they are eating it, and will likely be in the red soon. This may not be true in every case, but certainly is when dealing with a staff dedicated to support issues.
  • Online shopping has its place, like catalog shopping. To be honest, I'd rather catalog shop 'cause catalogs can go places my computer doesn't... like the "reading" room (yeah, I suppose a laptop would work, not a pretty thought though).

    However, most people prefer to shop in person. They like to touch the merchandise, maybe even talk to someone about the product. And if they take it home and it doesn't work, they like to be able to drive back to the store and return it.

    Returning purchases made online is a mixed bag at best. Sending the item back usually involves a loss on your part. Even if the retailer pays return postage (how many do that?) you still have the hassle of shipping the item.

    Another thing that happens when you return a product to a real store is that you typically buy something else there. This doesn't happen online.

    Online shopping isn't going away, but IMO it isn't going to grow much larger then it is now.
  • by Paul Komarek ( 794 ) <komarek.paul@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 29, 2002 @02:39PM (#2920516) Homepage
    Why does everyone watch Amazon.com and Egghead.com and ... I've been happily shopping at Bookpool (they're limited to technical books, but I generally am these days, too ;-) for 4 years now, with no problems to report *ever*. Computers4sure (which has recently been bought by Office Depot, it seems) has filled many of my computer orders during the last 3 years, again with no problems *ever*.

    Both have intelligently designed websites, good prices, good availability and, perhaps above all, reasonably priced and quick shipping. Both of these companies have been in business nearly as long (if not as long -- I'm just using my memory) as Amazon, without resorting to the bizarre expansions and gimicks.

    Why we should judge online retailing by Amazon.com is beyond me. I suppose one argument is that Amazon sells a wide range of books, whereas Bookpool specializes in a niche market. I bevelive this is a bogus argument: the internet is all about niche markets, and attempts to use it otherwise are stupid. Television is a way to force your message down every person's throats. The internet is a way for people to find what they *want*.

    The niche-nature of the internet has been demonstrated many times, perhaps foremost by Katz when releasing "Run to the Mountain" -- if I remember correctly, he even made it into Amazon's top ten for while. Certainly this didn't happen because of anything Amazon did (except to be known as a book seller, which they're leaving behind). It happened because of Katz's niche marketing.

    Who cares if Sears fails online? I'll drive to their store and talk to their staff if I don't know which tool I need, but I need it now or want to see it first. If I know what tool I want, or I don't need it now or don't need to see it first, I'll research tools on the web, and then look for an online vendor with good prices and policies. Is Sears likely to be this online vendor? No. When shopping for computer parts, is CompUSA's online service compelling? No -- their prices are sometimes good, but their shipping is horribly slow (their best is "usu. w/in 2 days", as opposed to "orders by 3PST will be shipped same day").

    Is Amazon likely to have the best price on technical books while Bookpool is around? No. Amazon seems to be aiming for "online Walmart" status. However, Walmart succeeded because they could keep their prices low and provide a little of everything (though most of nothing) to geographic communities. Online, geography is irrelevant (except when you ship ground, and if warehouses are distributed then even ground shipping can be fast). As a result, finding a sizeable customer base is easier. That means niche retailers can buy bulk and keep their prices down. Furthermore, niche retailers are likely to carry higher quality goods than Walmart and know more about their products than Walmart.

    So why would you go to Walmart, unless they're the only store with what you wanted (which is unlikely)? I expect that if Amazon is still around in 10 years, we'll think of them like Walmart or K-Mart, except less convenient than these stores.

    -Paul Komarek
  • Amazon's strength is that they've figured out how to present a user experience that online shoppers like and will come back for. I know that Amazon now provides the Toys R Us store, and probably a few others (Borders, maybe?).

    Amazon should outsource their warehouses, and get more bricks and mortars to outsource their ecommerce to them.


  • LL Bean (Score:2, Informative)

    by Delrin ( 98403 )
    The L.L Bean website was one of the worst designs I have seen in ages. In addition when my girlfriend and I bought online there to have a gift shipped to her parents in Texas as a gift, they actually shipped only 1 of the 2 products we ordered (backorder). However, they never notified us. And we were quite embarassed, as the second gift was to be for her mother's boyfriend. Consequently, he didn't receive anything! And we didn't find out in time to send him something else. If you want cutting edge, there are few if any sites on the internet that can do better than amazon.com [amazon.com]. And I hope that's the major reason that they are finally successful, they have an excellent site. A clear second place for me for service and a great site is one here in Canada. Mountain Equipment Co-op [www.mec.ca] doesn't dissapoint, and they offer free shipping, and Canadian prices!
  • Am I the only one that remembers Amazon's declaration last year that all our credit card numbers and addresses were their corporate asset?

    When that story broke, I logged in and removed all my personal information. I haven't shopped there since.

    Maybe they finally turned a profit by selling "their" business asset to a bunch of other retailers or maybe even Russian credit card number blackmailers.
  • It's easy enough for retailers to offer better customer service than an ISP.

    Example ISP call:
    'My cable modem isn't working, whenever I try to open a web page, it says it can't find it.'
    "Is your computer set to use DHCP?"
    'No, I have a cable modem.'

    Example retailer call:
    'I ordered this blouse from you, and promptly stained it.'
    "Cold water wash, ma'am. Use some Woolite if it doesn't come out right away.''But what about..'
    "Cold water, ma'am."
  • >The arrogant, customer-abusive tech world could >learn a lot from these people, who offer steep >discounts, stand behind their products, and >actually offer real and free customer support.

    Would they send me a patch?

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982