|Virtual Tinker's Wagons And The Return Of
BY TRACEY S. ROTH,
ASSISTANT EDITOR C@LL CENTER SOLUTIONS
Let's imagine that I sell a product. We can revisit Marketing 101 and call it a widget.
Consider that I'm mildly computer literate, but that's all. I'm thinking about
implementing a company Web site, but even that's going to be a major step for me. Talk
about virtual shopping carts and Web callback to me, and my head's likely to begin
rotating 360 degrees.
It's ironic. The very nature of e-commerce has taken the spirit of marketplace
competition and exploded it. Even a low-priced item like a CD or a book can be found on a
multitude of different sites for varying prices. Although the highly competitive nature of
the Web is throwing merchants for a loop, customers like knowing how easy it is to click
around until they find the best deal or the best shipping options. However, many small
businesses simply do not have the capital, the expertise or the bravado to jump into the
melee that is e-commerce. Even among companies that do have a Web presence, most of these
firms are currently incapable of actually processing orders online. The result is that the
companies with a strong Web presence and advanced systems in place to take orders are
naturally dominating e-commerce.
My theoretical company is small and not particularly high-tech. I sell only one style
of widget. I do not plan to expand my product line in the future. However, I feel strongly
that my widget is both better and more economical than Gigantic Company.com's widget. I
would like buyers to be able to find my product online, though I have no capital or
technology to make it available on my own steam.
So am I out of luck? Not necessarily.
Just as many consumers prefer the convenience of shopping malls rather than driving
from store to store to find Christmas presents for Auntie Marjorie, Uncle Henry and the
kids, e-shoppers may soon embrace the concept of "Web malls." Unlike general
Internet portals and Web search engines which lead surfing shoppers to different Web pages
and often exclude competing vendors, these sites aim to be a single source for a multitude
of business and consumer product categories. There are several of note, and several more
on the e-horizon.
Founded in 1996, BUY.COM follows the Web mall principle to a limited extent in that it
sells a broad range of entertainment and computer consumer goods. The site sells computer
hardware and software, DVDs and videos, PC games, books and CDs. Prices are lower than
those of brick-and-mortar stores and the selection is quite extensive.
Two recently launched sites have added an extra element to this concept and are
expanding beyond the concept of "here is our product, buy it if you want."
In the case of IMA's newly introduced site, buyingedge.com, shoppers submit requests to
sellers and it becomes the seller's responsibility to present the potential buyer with the
best product at the best price. buyingedge.com was designed for a broad, unlimited range
of vendors, from jewelry to lawn and gardening supplies. The benefits to buyers and
sellers are equal: the buyer is in control of the purchasing process, and the vendors can
participate, at no charge, in a service that leads buyers right to them without the
necessity of investing in an e-commerce presence on their own (vendors need only a PC with
a standard browser to participate). buyingedge.com
does not exclude competing vendors, so consumers can be fairly certain they are seeing
highly competitive price tags on the products they're seeking. The site became open to the
public and began processing transactions in late June 1999.
Another newly launched site, BizBuyer.com,
targets business products and services vendors and buyers. Biz.Buyer puts the buyer
further in control of the buying process in that small companies submit their purchasing
needs to the participant vendors, and it is the vendors' responsibility to bid for buyers'
business by submitting proposals. The site includes an online buyer's guide to help
educate consumers about the participating companies' products before they begin the buying
process. A successful implementation of this site will provide vendors with qualified
leads at no cost and with little or no effort. At press time, BizBuyer.com had 4,000
vendors on board.
So back to my widgets...care to e-haggle?
The author may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.