February 2, 2001, 12:00 AM

Surviving the shakeout: E-retailers adopt many strategies to assure their future

eTail 2001 will showcase e-retail experts and vendors.

By Kurt Peters

The past year has not been kind to dot-com retailers. Some of the most admired sites at the start of the year were gone by the end. Pets.com, whose sock puppet commercial during the Super Bowl created phenomenal brand awareness, was history by December. Garden.com, a site that analysts loved because of its design, content and community, didn’t live to see Christmas. And boo.com, which captured the fancy of international webophiles, was nothing but a shell of its former self by mid-year.

At the same time, though, consumers demonstrated that they want to shop online. Holiday shopping doubled from 1999, growing to $8.9 billion from $4.5 billion, according to a Goldman Sachs/PC Data study. And the experience was generally positive. Researcher Keynote Systems reports that web site response times improved over last year. Bizmetric Inc., a performance measurement company, reported order fulfillment was generally acceptable to consumers. To top it all off, Alexa Research reports that the week after Christmas was the third busiest online shopping week of the fourth quarter.

Retailers who can hang on to the web long enough thus have a great opportunity ahead of them. And they have no better place to exchange ideas about how to survive than at the eTail 2001 conference, Feb. 26-28 at the Hyatt Regency-San Francisco Airport. Entitled “Advanced Strategies to Achieve Sustainability, Profitability and Growth,” the conference features more than 30 retailers who will reveal their web strategies for profitability and leading vendors who will be on hand to demonstrate their hottest products. For a complete vendor list, see page 60. Internet Retailer is a media partner of eTail 2000.

The conference will start with general sessions on big-picture issues such as leveraging existing business to succeed in e-commerce, tracking customers across all channels, integrating bricks and clicks, building a strong customer-contact operation and making the most of a multi-channel approach.

1,000% growth

Kicking off the program on Feb. 27 will be Mark Goldstein, president and CEO of BlueLight.com. Probably no retailer in the past 12 months has generated more interest in its web strategy than BlueLight.com, the online division of Kmart Corp. Kmart offered free Internet access, signing up 5.5 million users in a year.

During the 2000 holiday shopping season, BlueLight’s traffic grew 1,000% over the 1999 holiday shopping season. Kmart says the average shopper is a married woman in her mid 40s, another indication that BlueLight is expanding the Internet shopping market.

BlueLight.com also has generated a lot of interest because it has demonstrated how bricks-and-mortar merchants can use their assets on the web. Goldstein will discuss how a web store can leverage the fulfillment and warehousing capabilities of its parent company, how to form strategic partnerships that fit the organization’s goals and strengths, how to make the customer experience seamless through all channels, how to develop a distinct Internet presence while maintaining brand consistency with existing businesses, and how to stay on top of new technology and integrate it into the business.

The second day of the conference starts with general sessions on surviving the shakeout, assessing the critical components of customer service and providing shopping experience to the customer no matter where she is shopping.

Leading off Day Two will be Kenny Kurtzman, chief executive officer of luxury retailer Ashford.com. In the midst of the debris of dying dot-com retailers, Ashford stands out as a beacon. For the 2000 holiday shopping season, Ashford reduced its wait time for customers contacting its call center to 36 seconds from 2 minutes last year. It answered e-mail inquiries in 2 hours vs. 24 hours the year before. It delivered 99.9% of its packages on time. And in a time when everyone is carefully reviewing marketing and portal agreements, Ashford has renewed its marketing agreement with Amazon.com.

Kurtzman will talk about how to build customer loyalty through the delivery of superior customer service, how to reduce customer acquisition costs by targeting marketing initiatives, how to sell higher margin goods, how to manage capital effectively and how to keep operation costs stable.

Discussions

Conference attendees also will have the chance to attend concurrent sessions, where the topics are more specific than at the general sessions and where they will be able to engage in more intimate discussions about the topic at hand.

Concurrent sessions will include such topics crucial to today’s success as balancing the tried-and-true values of retailing with today’s Internet requirements, managing a virtual warehouse, becoming a multi-channel retailer, using data analysis and modeling to capture more customers, understanding how to extend a web site’s reach to the global market, mastering the fulfillment and returns processes, improving profitability quickly, moving an offline brand online and evaluating the future of mobile commerce. Retailers in concurrent sessions include Sam Taylor of Lands’ End, Jon Nordmark of eBags, Vicki Reed of Lucy.com, Mark Bressler of Towerrecords.com and Patrick McHugh of the U.K.’s J Sainsbury.

Preceding the conference on Monday, Feb. 26, will be the Pre-Conference Technology Leadership Forum. The forum will give retailers a complete technology view of Internet-based operations, from marketing to access devices to returns. The Technology Leadership Forum will cover how technology can smooth the returns process for the retailer and make it a more positive experience for the customer, how retailers can increase profitability through customer intelligence, how digital marketplaces can help retailers, manufacturers, resellers and wholesalers manage channel conflict, how to deliver a top-flight customer experience, how business insights and software tools must work together, how technology can help manage e-commerce revenue, what the future is for retail wireless applications, and how color-correction technology can improve a customer’s experience on the web-and increase sales and profits.

 

The retailers on the agenda

Day One of the conference will feature such leading dot-com retailers as Mark Goldstein, president and CEO of BlueLight.com; Shelley Nandkeolyar, vice president of e-commerce of Williams-Sonomoa; Paul Pappajohn, president of JCPenney.com; Anne Marie Blaire, director of Internet brand development for Intimate Brands; Patrick McHugh, group director of e-commerce for J Sainsbury PLC; Ted Augustine, SVP and chief logistics officer of eToys; Vicki Reed, vice president, marketing, of Lucy.com; James O’Neill, former COO of Garden.com; and Mark Bressler, managing director of Towerrecords.com.

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