What Works On The Web - What Doesn't|
One would think that the ability to sit down in the comfort of one's home and order the week's groceries in about 15 minutes over the Internet - and have them delivered to one's home in the afternoon - instead of spending a couple of hours driving to the supermarket, cruising congested parking lots, picking one's way through crowded isles, standing in line for 15 minutes at the check out counter, and hauling the grocerie home - would be enthusiastically embraced by everyone.
And it was - at least by many young folks who can't afford a car as yet, by many harried time-squeezed families, by shut-ins, the mobility-challenged, and by the elderly who cannot drive anymore - all of whom loved the service.
But, and strangely enough, it turned out that almost all other people prefer even this most unpleasant chore of the week - second only to cleaning out the gutters - to the obvious ease and comfort of on-line grocery shopping from one's home. And there is only one reason: It always comes down to the fact that people much prefer to see and feel the "goodies" - and especially, in this case, the meat, the fruit and vegetables, even the bread and the pasta in its cello bags. Even when it comes to something as commonplace as groceries, people simply do not like to buy "a pig in a poke".
Once valued at $1.2 billion, Webvan attracted more funding than any e-tailing company other than Amazon.com. It raised $375 million in its first public offering and had such high-profile backers as Benchmark Capital, Softbank, Sequoia Capital and, through its HomeGrocer acquisition, former Netscape Communications CEO Jim Barksdale of The Barksdale Group. But on July 6. 2001 its stock finally fell to 6 cents from an initial high of $30.00 per share.
And it was not that "Webvan" provided a shoddy service. On the contrary; Webvan provided excellent service, with same-day delivery guaranteed in almost all cases. Launched in mid-1999 in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and Portland, with 7 warehouses and a large fleet of delivery trucks in these centres serving a total of 750.000 active customers, it had plans to serve an additional 20 US metropolitan markets.
Webvan had been one of the Internet's highest profile businesses, raising altogether about $800 million from venture capitalists and Wall Street, but burned through 830 million in two years without making a profit. Webvan had ceased deliveries on July 9. 2001 and declared bankruptcy. Webvan was extremely well conceived, well run, and well financed - but the anticipated millions of customers just did not materialize, although the small delivery charge was never a factor.
Webvan is only one of the many casualties in a string of on-line grocery stores closures. Earlier casualties were "ShopLink.com" and "Streamline.com", followed by the demise of online grocer "HomeRuns.com" on July 13. 2001.
So, if people even prefer the unpleasant chore of shopping for groceries at crowded supermarkets to the ease and comfort of at-home on-line shopping - what does this bode for such intensely personal items as dresses, blouses, shoes and sneakers, suits, a new couch or bedroom suite, a barbecue, those new curtains or a new TV, or stereo?
Forget it. It just does not work - and never will. People want to see, feel and check out the merchandise - and take it home with them. But they do shop around on the 'Web for information - but then buy locally at the store of their choice.
Not surprisingly then, and according to Cyber Dialogue, researchers also found a similar trend for non-grocery shoppers. "Although they use the Internet to research new cars, bicycles or salsa on-line, they rarely buy on-line, and 66% of all "Internet-influenced dollars" are spent at local, traditional, brick-and-mortar retailers".
Although the corollary - that 34% of "Internet-influenced dollars" are spent on on-line shopping - which does not sound too bad at all, there is a crucial caveat. These on-line sales consist almost exclusively of money spent in the travel industry, in the popular auctions, books and CD's, and on one-of-a-kind items - such as works of art, antiques and unique fashions such as "Virginia's Secret", "Lands End" and "Patagonia", or even "Billy Bob's Blistering Chili Sauce". These enterprises do very well in on-line sales, but the latter only because one can't get these products anywhere else. For most other businesses, on-line shopping implementation is a very expensive waste of time and money. To whit, and as another prominent victim (Oct. 2002), the very well designed, well financed and prominently advertised "www.sportchek.ca" has found out. The on-line sales just were not there, their foray into on-line sales cost them a fortune-and-a-half, and "www.sportchek.ca" is now just an advertising only Web site for their country wide net of local stores.
So, and unless you are in one of these unique niche markets, do not listen to all the hype. The thousands of once well financed dead "dotcoms" which all went bust in the infamous "dot com bust" are a stark and vivid warning. It is also a perfect example of "Lemming" mentality - of people blindly, and all too often greedily, "following the flock" to what was, from the beginning, a dead end. Few thought independently and for themselves, and took account of what people really want.
This "Lemming" mentality is the reason why you won't find this vitally important advice to you and your business anywhere else on the 'Web. They're all still blindly "following the flock". But you see it here - and, moreover, from a business engaged in building Web sites. And this is exactly as it should be. Any company engaged in building Web sites should know and understand the Web, should know what works for whom, and what doesn't, and advise you accordingly.
But do advertise on the 'Web. The Internet is the most fabulous "Information" medium ever, period, and pure and simple. And that's what most people by far want - and what they use it for. Information; Information; Information.
Consequently, the business which provides the information consumers are looking for has a very substantial advantage over any business which does not. It is as simple as that.
Nowadays - and particularly so the young adult crowd, which has grown up with the Web - people look on the Web first for any of their needs, wants and interests - and more and more, think that it does not exist if they can't find it on the Web. So, a Web presence is now as crucial as the Yellow Pages once were.
But keep your Web presence simple, clear and to the point, cheerful and pleasant - and above all "human" and as "personal" as possible. People are not walking wallets; they are intelligent, warm blooded, caring, loving and emotional beings, and all have an innate sense of beauty and aesthetics - which does not take kindly to being insulted, but responds extremely well to an attractive, well designed and well functioning Web site.
Insist on this with whoever you deal with for your 'Web presence and 'showcase', and your business will benefit much from it. Anything else is a waste of money and will hurt your business far more than it helps. [Close this window to return to your previous page ].