January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Online Retailing Just Keeps On Rolling

The rapid growth of online retailing in North America continues, with revenues expected to top $36 billion by the end of the year and a projected growth rate of 145% in 1999. These findings were released today by Shop.org, the trade association for online retailers, in a report conducted by The Boston Consulting Group.


     Based on data from 328 online retailers, 158 of which participated in a detailed survey, the study provides the first complete picture of actual online retail revenues for 1998. Total 1998 online revenues across all categories reached $14.9 billion, representing 0.5 % of all retail sales. Online orders in 1998 were up 200% and the number of online shoppers was up 300%.


     "While it is commonly acknowledged that Internet retailing is coming of age, our research shows that opportunities exist to further grow the category," says Donna Iucolano, Chair of Shop.org's Committee on Internet Shopping Research. "Challenges and opportunities are being dealt with on a daily basis by online-only 'pure-play' retailers, traditional stores, catalogers and manufacturers. The specific findings and lessons reported in this study illustrate that retailers of all kinds and sizes are finding new and innovative ways to market and sell products online to the global consumer."


     "Most people think e-commerce is mainly being done by Web-only businesses, but 62% of the $14.9 billion of online revenues in 1998 were from retailers who had businesses that predated the Web. These catalog, call centers and brick-and-mortar retailers are a growing force behind the continued rapid growth of online retail," said David Pecaut, Senior Vice President of The Boston Consulting Group and leader of its E-Commerce Practice.


     The Shop.org/BCG study compares multichannel retailers - those with brick-and-mortar, call center or catalog operations who also sell online - with "pure-play" retailers who sell strictly online. A number of key differences are cited:


     Currently, pure-play retailers are dominant in the collectibles (person-to-person auctions), books, music/video and automotive categories. In categories such as financial brokerages, consumer electronics, apparel and computers, the majority of sales are from multichannel retailers.


     Because multichannel retailers have the advantage of an existing brand and infrastructure, they are more recognizable than online-only competitors in some areas. But online-only retailers have begun using aggressive online and off-line marketing and advertising campaigns to build their own recognizable brands.


     The two channels work the Web differently, with online-only retailers generating 6% of revenues from affiliate sites, compared to only 1% for multichannel retailers.


     Pure-play retailers earned 12% of revenues from high-margin supplemental sources versus less than 1% earned by multichannel retailers.


     Customer acquisition costs for online-only retailers are $42 per customer, almost double that for multichannel retailers at $22 per customer. While multichannel retailers spend heavily on customer retention (16% of their marketing and advertising budget), online-only retailers spend only 3% on retention, devoting most of their resources to customer acquisition. Online-only retailers tend to outsource back office functions such as managing inventories and filling orders, while multichannel retailers more often outsource Web site development and maintenance.


     The report draws on the recent experience of savvy online merchants to offer eight lessons for online retail success:

    1.Develop relationships of trust and security with customers to overcome inhibitions about online shopping.
    2.'Imprint' new customers by becoming their first point of reference and creating a sense of comfort that can translate into customer loyalty.
    3.Exploit the connectivity of the Web by leveraging affiliate programs and portal relationships that drive customers to your site.
    4.Provide end-to-end customer service throughout the purchasing cycle - from order taking to delivery to after-purchase services such as responding to customer questions and complaints, merchandise returns, exchanges and billing.
    5.Use rich information to increase sales and product mix; providing customers with more information helps them make better purchasing decisions and often encourages them to buy more high value products.
    6.Leverage offline relationships to gain online customers by providing them with a means of researching, acquiring and servicing their purchases in person, by phone or by Internet.
    7.Develop interactive merchandising. In other words, replicate the in-store sales interaction by providing consumers with opportunities for two-way, personal and interactive communications.
    8.Create a powerful brand promise around the total retail experience, including the online process and fulfillment.

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