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Online Retailing Comes of Age

JonKatz posted more than 12 years ago | from the will-tech-industries-ever-learn? dept.

The Internet 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.

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GPL: Intellectual Theft (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919598)


Consulting for several large companies, I'd always done my work on Windows. Recently however, a top online investment firm asked us to do some work using Linux. The concept of having access to source code was very appealing to us, as we'd be able to modify the kernel to meet our exacting standards which we're unable to do with Microsoft's products.

Although we met several technical challenges along the way (specifically, Linux's lack of Token Ring support and the fact that we were unable to defrag its ext2 file system), all in all the process went smoothly. Everyone was very pleased with Linux, and we were considering using it for a great deal of future internal projects.

So you can imagine our suprise when we were informed by a lawyer that we would be required to publish our source code for others to use. It was brought to our attention that Linux is copyrighted under something called the GPL, or the Gnu Protective License. Part of this license states that any changes to the kernel are to be made freely available. Unfortunately for us, this meant that the great deal of time and money we spent "touching up" Linux to work for this investment firm would now be available at no cost to our competitors.

Furthermore, after reviewing this GPL our lawyers advised us that any products compiled with GPL'ed tools - such as gcc - would also have to its source code released. This was simply unacceptable.

Although we had planned for no one outside of this company to ever use, let alone see the source code, we were now put in a difficult position. We could either give away our hard work, or come up with another solution. Although it was tought to do, there really was no option: We had to rewrite the code, from scratch, for Windows 2000.

I think the biggest thing keeping Linux from being truly competitive with Microsoft is this GPL. Its draconian requirements virtually guarentee that no business will ever be able to use it. After my experience with Linux, I won't be recommending it to any of my associates. I may reconsider if Linux switches its license to something a little more fair, such as Microsoft's "Shared Source". Until then its attempts to socialize the software market will insure it remains only a bit player.

Thank you for your time.

Re:GPL: Intellectual Theft (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919615)

Hello, Please fuck off. Thank you.

Re:GPL: Intellectual Theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919686)

Gnu Protective License
Furthermore, after reviewing this GPL our lawyers advised us that any products compiled with GPL'ed tools - such as gcc - would also have to its source code released.
Although we had planned for no one outside of this company to ever use, let alone see the source code, we were now put in a difficult position.
oh please stop my diaphragm is going to spasm!
What a textbook list of GPL myths!
It's like a public service message.
You were expecting someone to bite on this?

Consumers more confident, savvy about ecommerce (1, Redundant)

JohnHegarty (453016) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919613)

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

Re:Consumers more confident, savvy about ecommerce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919659)

So Jon Katz was elaborating on a perfectly succinct story from the register, eh? Nice work.

Re:Consumers more confident, savvy about ecommerce (-1)

IAgreeWithThisPost (550896) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919706)

of course..the Jon Katz work ethic:
1) Steal other's work
2) If unable to steal other's work, invent stories(HELLO JUNIS IN AFGHANISTAN!)

Inventing stories (-1)

October_30th (531777) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919758)


That's a serious allegation. Can you back it up?

Who's Junis?

Re:Inventing stories (-1)

IAgreeWithThisPost (550896) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919908)

Junis is a character in a fictional short story Jon Katz posted as being real:

http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/11/17/2042 07 &mode=flat

Re:Consumers more confident, savvy about ecommerce (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919711)

Speaking of informative links, where's the background fact links, Jon?

You have one link to a consumer news site and that's it?

I want more meat and potatoes. Hard proof. That's what we need!

Re:Consumers more confident, savvy about ecommerce (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919735)

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Mod Parent Down (0, Offtopic)

Hulver (5850) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919842)

A cut and paste of an article from another site, apart from violating their copyright, is not insightful, it's karma whoring.

Amazon.com (1)

Stone Rhino (532581) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919614)

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.

Re:Amazon.com (-1)

yatest5 (455123) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919810)

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.

Hmm, Amazon's profit is very much a 'profit'. Anyone who knows anything about accounting will be able to explain how it isn't really a profit at all, but I forgot all I learnt about it, so there.

Re:Amazon.com (0, Insightful)

October_30th (531777) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919843)


It's not just pro forma profit but real profit!

The retailer had been expected to announce only a so-called "pro forma" profit, an unreliable measure that excludes all but the most basic adjustments.

In fact, it made $5m net of all expenses during the quarter, compared with a loss of $545m a year earlier.

Founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos had promised that Amazon would at least break even on a pro forma basis, but almost no one had predicted that it would record a net profit.
... (BBC News [bbc.co.uk])

Is this really news? (1)

sensate_mass (171138) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919619)

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

Re:Is this really news? (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919700)

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.

Re:Is this really news? (1)

RagManX (258563) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919751)

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.


Ok, so they made a profit... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919620)

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...

Re:Ok, so they made a profit... (1)

RagManX (258563) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919777)


I somehow doubt Amazon's continued profitability depends on your purchase of Salmon of Doubt next quarter. But thanks for the laugh.


ooh, ooh, first post!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919621)

Always wanted to do that...now, better read the article :)

I like... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919628)

big butts and i cannot lie, you otha brothas can't deny!

In case you hadn't noticed.... (5, Informative)

joshamania (32599) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919633)

....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.

Re:In case you hadn't noticed.... (0, Insightful)

SirSlud (67381) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919694)

And it's a profit on a pro forma earnings (sp?) ... hardly a true profit.

More spin. I can hear the suits now ... "Go, confidence, go! Here's some more pro-e-commerce redderick for you all!"

One wonders where Wall Street would be right now were it not for the fairy tales of pro forma earnings and the distored reality of earnings reports. It's like this sick joke we all have to "believe in", otherwise our world (and dependance on wall street to bring love, peave, and freedom to the world) isn't quite so rosy. :)

Re:In case you hadn't noticed.... (1, Offtopic)

jgerman (106518) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919825)

Dude, what the fuck is redderic? Is that red-neck rhetoric?

Re:In case you hadn't noticed.... (1)

computer_chacham (111723) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919864)

Didn't you read the slashdot story ( http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/01/22/175224 4 )? It was a 5 million dollar profit using generally accepted accounting principles. Pro forma profits were around 35 million.

At least your spelling was correct... (4, Informative)

Squirrel Killer (23450) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919899)

And it's a profit on a pro forma earnings (sp?) ... hardly a true profit.
Not according to CNN.com [cnn.com].
"Amazon didn't even have to resort to controversial pro forma accounting methods. It posted a net profit of $5 million, or 1 cent a share, for the quarter, using standard accounting methods."
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea what this means. I don't even know if profits shown from "standard accounting methods" would translate exactly into profits as I understand them, so maybe you're correct to say that "[Amazon] hardly [posted] a true profit," but you're wrong about them using pro forma earnings to post that profit. Whatever that means, I'll leave the accounting to the professionals, like Anderson^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H KPMG.


Re:In case you hadn't noticed.... (4, Informative)

ilikedonuts (135747) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919904)

Ummmm... nope.

It was a true net operating profit helped largely (and readily admitted by Amazon) by a favorable swing in the euro exchange rate. They expected a pro-forma profit and delivered a bonus profit.

Do you actually know what a pro forma profit is and why people use it? GAAP accounting forces you to account for non-cash charges like the amortization of goodwill.

For example, Amazon bought PlanetAll in 1998 for $250MM. How much money left their bank account? $0. It was paid for in stock, how much stock did Amazon buy on the market and transfer to PlanetAll? $0. They issued new stock that was authorized (and which the market, if it prices based on perfect public info) should factor in to some extent. Now they have to amortize that cost over time. But it wasn't a real $$ cost. So if you're looking at the operating performance of the business and you're trying to decide whether you should invest based on on-going normal operations you shouldn't (debateable of course) look at non-cash charges. Thus you look at Pro-Forma Operating profit.
Oh, and yes, the currency swing is also excluded from pro-forma profitability because it is a non-recurring cost (gain)

Re:In case you hadn't noticed.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919720)

I suggest going back to accounting school. Last quarter profit is all that Amazon needed. That quarter made up for all other quarter losses -- it makes sense -- as holiday season is the real earning time OFFLINE and ONLINE.

Re:In case you hadn't noticed.... (2)

ChaosDiscordSimple (41155) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919760)

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.

umm. (2, Insightful)

raindog151 (157588) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919638)

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? (3, Insightful)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919645)

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.

The following is flamebait (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919646)

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

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

Uh oh, Katz. Words like "alas" and "shrewder" will probably confuse the large audience of English-deficient 14-year-old l337 high school dropouts who comprise the majority of the slashdot "community." Try sticking to one syllable words and stick in the occasional misspelling.... I don't think Slashdot is the place for this type of intelligent article writing ;-P

Your point is? (2, Flamebait)

sandman935 (228586) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919652)

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?

Good news for us in the middle of nowhere. (3, Interesting)

sawilson (317999) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919653)

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.

Re:Good news for us in the middle of nowhere. (1)

debiansierra (550297) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919717)

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! :).

It's a miracle Amazon is still in business (5, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 12 years ago | (#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.

Re:It's a miracle Amazon is still in business (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919857)

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Re:It's a miracle Amazon is still in business (3, Insightful)

MSBob (307239) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919870)

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.

"Death" of Retail (2)

Marx_Mrvelous (532372) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919665)

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.

Re:"Death" of Retail (1)

jumpingfred (244629) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919708)

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.

Re:"Death" of Retail (3, Insightful)

2Flower (216318) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919726)

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.

Re:"Death" of Retail (1)

debiansierra (550297) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919734)

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.

Re:"Death" of Retail (1)

joshsisk (161347) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919822)

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 (1)

ChannelX (89676) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919849)

Retail chains are going thru hard times for two reasons and neither one of them has anything to do with the web. First, the economy. Obviously people will buy less if they either dont have a job or fear losing their job. Two, giants like Wal-Mart. KMart is having problems because of Wal-Mart plain and simple.

Until places like Amazon can offer browsing of books, etc brick-and-mortar bookstores don't have much to worry about. Unless the book can be had for much cheaper online (and I've only found that to be really true in the case of tech books) I'd rather buy it locally. I can go to the store, browse, and buy right there. No waiting for shipping. The fact that it might cost a little less online doesn't make up for the convenience of being able to browse and buy.

Other types of stores still don't have much to worry about. What kinds of things would you buy at a Wal-Mart that you'd buy online? Not much. Same thing for most retailers. The "death of retail" is a bunch of hooey.

DonkeyKatz Boogie (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919666)

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FrontLine's "Dot.Con" edition had some numbers (3, Insightful)

Tattva (53901) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919667)

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.

Some sites need to buy a clue (5, Informative)

Dark Paladin (116525) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919671)

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.

Re:Some sites need to buy a clue (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919753)

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.

Re:Some sites need to buy a clue (2)

Dark Paladin (116525) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919786)

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.

Re:Some sites need to buy a clue (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919892)

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.

Sure, cop an attitude. But when you find the places that offer what you want at what you want to pay continue to suck, who's to blame? Without feedback there's no way your e-tailer knows you're unhappy.

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!".

Actually, local McD's are franchises and they certainly do care. That's how McRib, McPizza, and a lot of the other special items come and go, because people don't buy them or if they do, but want a change then they communicate. Enough communication and it moves up the pipeline. None, and nothing changes.

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.

Typical in the sense of complaining but doing nothing about it. You're well on your way to being a curmudgeon.

Hi, Fellator Maximus! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919674)

Jon Katz idiot.

"I don't think I'm all that controversial," Jon Katz says.

By his own account, you wouldn't know that Katz is, in fact, a lightning rod. The media critic and author of numerous works, including Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho, is often flamed by readers who call for his ouster every time one of his stories appears on Slashdot, the site he calls home. Katz gets accused of everything from self-aggrandizement to Faith-Popcorn-style trend mongering to -- worst of all -- not being a real geek.

He's maligned and even dissed by members of his own constituency who fail to recognize him for what he is: a leader of one of the important social movements of the Internet Age.

Or was. Katz has more or less stepped down from his role as lead scribe of the "anti-bullying movement" -- a loose coalition of students, parents, commentators and educators who argue that to write off school harassment as "kids being kids" is to ignore a very real threat to students' physical and mental health.

Now, the one-time crusader for the geek underclass has decided to concentrate on writing more general technology articles and media commentary. And the efforts of Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary aside, no one's really picked up where he left off.

Katz cites burnout as one of the reasons for his recent decision to branch out beyond tales of grief. "I was actually close to getting obsessed about it," he says during a phone interview. "A bunch of my friends said, 'You've got to stop doing it, or you're just going to become -- I mean, your whole life's work is just basically being a transmitter of all this misery.'"

All this misery. An electronic river of pain. That's how Katz variously refers to the torrent of messages that he says crashed three of his computers and hasn't completely subsided yet: messages from kids ostracized by their peers; teenagers alienated from both fellow students and authorities; thirty-somethings who still haven't forgotten the pain of being different. All of them reached out to Katz because he had the temerity to suggest in a 1999 article entitled "Why Kids Kill" that there was something wrong with schools that treated disaffected geeks as potential killers in the wake of Columbine.

"As a writer, I've never in my life touched a deeper chord," he says of the article, and the many-part Slashdot series, "Voices from the Hellmouth," that was based on the e-mail messages "Why Kids Kill" provoked. For almost two years, Katz wrote of geeks beaten up, threatened, and sexually harassed by their peers. And ignored, disciplined, and sent into counseling by school administrators.

"Why Kids Kill" may not have been the most likely starting point for a revolution. Published on Slashdot, it was more of a media think piece than a report from the front lines. In it, Katz takes journalists to task for concentrating on computer games and the Internet as possible causes for Columbine.

"It was the final break between me and the media," Katz says now. "I never got over the coverage of he Columbine shooting."

Despite having worked for venerable old-media outlets like The New York Times and Rolling Stone, as well as Wired, Katz more or less left print journalism for the in-your-face world of Slashdot, which bills itself as, simply, "News for Nerds. Stuff that matters." Stories are posted and immediately analyzed and dissected by users. Katz describes it as "the best job I've ever had in my life."

When asked why he doesn't try to spread the geek-movement word with a well-placed op-ed in The New York Times, or maybe a longer piece in The New Yorker, Katz dismisses the idea. "People like me tend to be attacked, trivialized, marginalized," he says. "To write a token op-ed piece is not going to change anything."

And how have Slashdotters repaid him for joining their ranks, both as a chronicler of their stories and as a technology columnist? Katz seems generally happy with the feedback he gets. "I get probably two to five hundred e-mail messages per column, and of those, I probably get one or two flames a week," he says.

But read the comments posted on Slashdot after any Katz story, and you can see the hostility he inspires in some of the Slashdot faithful. Consider some of the attacks that followed "Is Open Source the New Jerusalem?" which, perhaps a bit ambitiously, compares the open source movement to god's kingdom on earth. "[D]oes anyone give a crap what katz thinks? Does he post this article to boost his own ego?" "I'm beginning to wonder if JK is the ubertroll. I mean, I used to be able [to] handle the highfalutin pop psych, but this is just silly." "[O]h wise Jon Katz, why don't you define revolution for us?"

Of course, Katz has already defined, catalyzed and guided a revolution: the geek revolution, for lack of a better term. And it's geeks themselves who view him with the most suspicion.

After exchanging e-mails with some of the Slashdotters who flame Katz, it's evident that their complaints are as varied as Katz's articles. They grumble about long, windy, unpolished pieces that don't fit into Slashdot's paragraph-link weblog format, and a style that sometimes glosses over key distinctions.

"Katz comes blazing in without any understanding of ... shared references, and makes statements which people find embarrassingly naive. [It's] like you were discussing the finer points of characterization in Romeo and Juliet in the bar and Katz would come over and say 'Don't you think their suicides were so tragic?'" writes poster Eddie Edwards in an e-mail.

While Timothy Lee and Elijah Sarver both supported the "Hellmouth" series, Lee complains about "fluff pieces in which [Katz] makes broad, unsupported statements about the future, technology, the internet, etc." And Sarver writes, "[H]is writing style is not edited, which hurts him greatly."

But most of the flames his stories receive aren't just about the stories; they're about him. Katz is a big-name writer using his own name at a place where most of the monikers are more along the lines of "Hemos" and "CmdrTaco." He's writing about technology from the perspective of a journalist. Some of what makes Katz distrust big media might make Slashdot readers distrust Katz.

"They're an extraordinarily sensitive culture," he says. "Especially when an outsider writes about them, they often resent it quite a bit."

The "Hellmouth" series was generally well-received, but not everyone bought Katz's concerns. The Village Voice published a piece by Jane Dark, "Suffer the (White, Middle-Class) Children," that criticized the self-identification of geeks as an oppressed group, similar to racial and ethnic minorities that have been persecuted.

Katz, however, rejects the notion that the problems teenagers described were superficial and/or overblown. "I think one can easily differentiate between whining and misery ... I don't think they were faking it," he says. "There are just many, many thousands of really bright and creative kids who are suffering quite acutely and whose problems are not being addressed."

Most of the criticism, though, came from Slashdot readers themselves. "People got sick of it. There were people who said, 'What's it doing on a technology site?'" he recalls. The vein he tapped with "Hellmouth" poured out not only in the form of anguished, confessional, personal e-mails but also outward hostility.

"They don't want to be different and they don't want to be seen as being different and I'm sure there were people who were extremely uncomfortable reading this stuff," he says of the group the series was aimed at.

Writing more speculative pieces like the "New Jerusalem" article, he's likely to keep attracting flames, but unlikely to make anyone uncomfortable.

"I moved on to other subjects," he says. "I think [Hellmouth] was a one-time thing. I did not write about the shootings [in San Diego] ... If you do this full-time, it's a very valuable thing, but you become a social worker."

Katz did return in late March from his self-imposed hiatus to write the pointedly titled column "Are Kids Turning Your Kids Into Killers?" Katz says that he and other Slashdot staff weren't sure whether to run another piece about school shootings, but Attorney General John Ashcroft's criticism of computer games as part of an "ethic of violence" convinced them it was necessary.

"The truth is," Katz wrote, "many more kids kill themselves then [sic] others, often because of bullying, a subject about which Ashcroft had nothing to say. The question really is whether vicious kids and hostile school environments are turning kids into killers."

The article, which mentions Tempest Smith, a Michigan 12-year-old who committed suicide after suffering repeated taunting and harassment, is one of his briefest and most direct -- "The best columns on the subject are those that state the obvious," he says.

So is Katz back as the anti-bullying movement's voice? He says he doesn't want to become a preacher, but knows the subject is one he can't completely leave alone. "I don't think I'm ever going to escape it," he says. When asked if he sees the lot of alienated high school students improving any time soon, his answer is a flat "No."

While bullying will likely be recognized as a bonafide health issue, anti-bullying programs (which have been instituted in a small number of schools) won't be enough to correct the problem, says Katz. The answer, he says, involves a complete restructuring of the school system to accommodate the needs of different students and encourage individual creativity -- which is an unlikely scenario. "I don't think the country has any appetite for focusing on issues like this," Katz says.

And the reaction some of these kids got when expressing understanding of, if not solidarity with, ostracized school shooters, has taught many of them to keep their feelings to themselves. "Since then, a lot of these kids ... have really gone underground; they've learned not to talk about their disaffection," he adds.

Although the mainstream punditocracy is beginning to parrot some of Katz's views regarding the causes of school violence, the solutions offered seem far from perfect. A recent article in the Weekly Standard, for example, suggests that students who feel "trapped" should be allowed to drop out and work at McDonald's, which writer Jackson Toby says is "successful at training egocentric teenagers."

Since that attitude may be indicative of the national level of sympathy directed toward those considered outsiders, some geeks might resent Katz -- who's more likely to argue in favor of the bullies dropping out and working in fast food -- for not continuing to lead the revolution he started. But what's really important is that he started it in the first place.

Katz has almost singlehandedly introduced an awareness of bullying into the national dialogue. School harassment may have become just one more item on the laundry list of contributing factors ticked off by media types every time there's a school shooting -- a list that also includes guns, absent parents, and, Katz's perennial favorite, video games. Still, that's an enormous change from two years ago, when any mention of social ostracism in connection with Columbine was thought to imply support for the killers.

And that's why Slashdot readers should cut him a little slack. Yes, he's fond of long film reviews and sometimes repetitive "future of the Web" pieces. The connection between his work and the rest of the site, moreover, is sometimes tenuous. But Katz uncovered the harassment and civil liberties violations geeks face on a regular basis, and he provided an essential outlet and repository for the fears and anger of a lost generation within a generation. That alone is still worth a lot -- and might be reason for more optimism than Katz is willing to allow.

Other smart sites (2, Interesting)

debiansierra (550297) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919676)

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.

Re:Other smart sites (1)

DataSquid (33187) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919821)

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. (4, Interesting)

Gannoc (210256) | more than 12 years ago | (#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. (2, Insightful)

Dr. Dew (219113) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919803)

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.

Re:sigh. (1)

axlrosen (88070) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919912)

And, how much easier is customer support for Amazon than for Gateway? How many problems can I have with my book?

Amazons profit (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919687)

Amazons profit is a farce....(though it is real, technically)

It utilized creative accounting and the introduction of the euro to make it's European debt deflate.

Is the profit legitamate? Yes. Would it have happened if the Euro had not been introduced? No.

E-commerce still has a steep road to travel.

Yeah, right, Katz (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919688)

"I can't be quoted on this until the figures are finished," a friend and research analyst e-mailed me

it's well known that you don't have any friends. You plastic sex doll doesn't count, you see?

Sweeping generalizations == a bad thing (1, Offtopic)

Aquaman616 (131268) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919691)

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.

No one sees a profit? (4, Funny)

sllort (442574) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919693)

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].

Donkey Slashbot Requiem (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919696)

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Uijt jt tpnfuijoh uibu- bmbt- dpnqvufs boe tpguxbsf dpnqbojft tujmm ibwfo'u mfbsofe.

It seems pretty simple to me: (4, Interesting)

Multiple Sanchez (16336) | more than 12 years ago | (#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.

What the dot-com bust taught us. (5, Interesting)

fmaxwell (249001) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919707)

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? (5, Informative)

greggish (319517) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919709)

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".

Wow! Capitalism works, after all! (2, Insightful)

YouAreFatMan (470882) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919715)

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!"

But... but... (0, Offtopic)

GodHead (101109) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919719)

I thought the internet was a wasteland of pr0n. Damnit, Katz, make up my mind.

Pro Forma (1, Informative)

SirSlud (67381) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919722)

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.

ESTFUKP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919727)

oh me oh my.
Early STFU, Katz post!

Crackhead moderators! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919846)

STFU Katz is always ontopic on a JonKatz [slashdot.org] story.

Try flamebait. Or gratuitous abuse.
Better yet, reflect upon what "posted by Annonymous Coward (score : 0)" implies. Then go use your mod points to mod up good posts .

!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919731)

fuck off katz

Most retailers are still a bunch of arse, mind... (5, Funny)

handelaar (65505) | more than 12 years ago | (#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.

cut the chafe away and get to the meat (3, Funny)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919733)

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

Amazon is still WAY in the red (3, Insightful)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 12 years ago | (#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.

Amazon is great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919739)

They have their priorities in the right place. Lower the costs and provide customer service. Other e-tailers (and perhaps retailers) should study them and figure out how to actually lower costs. See what they have done in the last year and that should be the map that all other e-tailers follow.

Whhaaaa?! Who's Katz shopping with? (1)

FatSean (18753) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919740)

In my experience, far too many online retailers are shady.

'The arrogant, customer-abusive tech world' (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919743)

Katz, you aren't our customer. You are our bitch.

wtf. (1)

Requiem (12551) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919748)

Amazon? Profit? It's like there's these words coming out of your mouth, but I don't know what you're saying.

abusive tech industry? (1)

stinky wizzleteats (552063) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919752)

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.

Online B&M is the key. (2, Interesting)

gpinzone (531794) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919755)

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?

The author (0, Troll)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919761)

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.

I usually read Slashdot stories without regard to reading the author first. I thought this was going to actually be an interesting story... up until I read that line.

Nothing New (3, Interesting)

Prof_Dagoski (142697) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919762)

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?

Amazon Turned A Profit? (1)

AlgUSF (238240) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919776)

Does anyone know where I can get a weather report
for hell? I bet it is cold.

Re:Amazon Turned A Profit? (2)

Sobrique (543255) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919819)

Yeah, something like 3 million profit.
Offset against their net losses (IIRC that was in the billions).... well the weather report doesn't show snow _just_ yet.

The future truly is bright if we can point to that, and say they're a success. The dotcom boom all over again!

What the...? (2, Funny)

ratguy (248395) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919787)

Amazon turned a profit?

You know, I knew it was getting a little cold down here, but I never saw this coming.

Free tech support? (2)

p3d0 (42270) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919790)

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.

Buying computer parts online - OFF TOPIC (2)

liquidsin (398151) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919816)

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.

Anecdotal statistics (3, Insightful)

Codex The Sloth (93427) | more than 12 years ago | (#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!

I still prefer Internet shopping (0)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919829)

Try buying very customized and rare computer parts in compusa or bestbuy.... good luck. Niche shopping is online shopping.

washed up? (1)

night_flyer (453866) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919845)

I have spent well over 2k online in the last year, I didnt even get close to that from the brick and mortar stores, online shopping is the wave of the future, this is only the begining... lets just hope they dont drop the ball

Real and free customer support? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2919850)

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.

One of my biggest gripes about many online retailers is the customer support. Katz mentions that at L.L. Bean, you can call them and speak to a human.

But, what about Amazon.com, also mentioned by Katz? I dare you to find a phone number for customer support on their site. Same thing with Buy.com, and I'm sure with many other online retailers. Your only option for customer "support" is through email.

I've had to get orders straightened out with both Amazon and Buy, and it is extremely frustrating to have to type long emails back and forth to somebody to explain a complicated situation, which could be resolved in 30 seconds over the phone. Of course, this "back and forth" is not over a period of minutes, but a period of days.

So, I'll give Katz the "free" part of "real and free" customer support. But, unfortunately, many of my experiences have been unreal, to say the least. I think that Katz's example of L.L. Bean's quality customer support is more rare than he realizes.

What e-commerce is and what it isn't... (2)

Robber Baron (112304) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919852)

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"...

Nerdware vs. Wifeware (1)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919860)

AMD processors, RAM, sooper fast Video cards, the things I buy some of once every 3 months. Enter stage left. The wife. Spiegel, Sacks Fifth Avenue, Victoria secrets(I havent seen any!), door knobs, pictures, decorations, etc...My wife is on a rampage.

Brilliant (2)

WildBeast (189336) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919866)

Jon Katz wants tech companies to offer free tech support. Free software + Free tech support = 0 Profits. We can't offer everything for free.

Alan Thicke DEAD. (0, Funny)

Alan_Thicke (553655) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919885)

I just heard the sad news on CBC radio. Comedy actor/writer Alan Thicke was found dead in his home this morning. Even if you never watched his work, you can appreciate what he did for 80's television. Truly a Canadian icon.
He will be missed :(

Show me That Smile (The Growing Pains Theme Song):

Show me that smile again.
Ooh show me that smile.
Don't waste another minute on your crying.
We're nowhere near the end.
We're nowhere near.
The best is ready to begin.

As long as we got each other
We got the world
Sitting right in our hands.
Baby rain or shine;
All the time.
We got each other
Sharing the laughter and love.

A new Katz classic (3, Funny)

mttlg (174815) | more than 12 years ago | (#2919891)

"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.

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