New technologies expand on-line horizons

Internet shopping advances: new technologies expand on-line horizons

NEW YORK — Studies continue to suggest that the Internet is here to stay, even while the technologies that deliver Internet access and secure Internet commerce evolve.

Fueled by growing Internet usage among women, the outlook for selling goods and services over the Internet, from supermarket staples to high-end specialty gifts, appears more likely every day.

These were some of the trends that merited attention during Discount Store New’s second in-depth Retailing on the Internet conference, co-sponsored by MasterCard International and held late last month in New York City. The conference featured numerous Internet case studies from retailers, unveiled new electronic commerce developments and highlighted the latest marketing research figures on Internet usage and growth.

* Keith Arnold, manager of interactive marketing and merchandising at CompuServe Electronic Mall, discussed efforts “to bring order to the chaos” that currently exists on several electronic malls. CompuServe is implementing centralized billing, adding customer service and installing systems that allow users to shop numerous merchants through one common system. Since there are more than 2,000 Internet storefronts and Internet novices can’t always find the products they want without a good deal of effort, the malls on CompuServe, America Online and Prodigy are usually the first stops for online users, he said.

* In the area of electronic commerce, Tom Pouliot, director, electronic commerce for MasterCard International, predicted the Internet will ultimately change the way consumers communicate, shop and bank. Pouliot noted that through its alliance with Visa, American Express and other financial institutions, MasterCard will soon develop “secure payments systems for open networks, not just the Internet. EDI is likely to be among those applications, he said.

* Jeff Spirer, vp, marketing of Virtual Vineyards (http://virtualvin.com), one of the most successful Internet merchants to date, described his company’s unique cross-selling approach to retailing on the Internet. In addition to advertising on gourmet food and wine Web sites, Virtual Vineyards has tapped a fresh vein of on-line consumers by advertising on sites that offer stock quotes.

This strategy also allows Virtual Vineyards to cost-effectively “micromarket” to distinct Internet user groups that it couldn’t reach through traditional advertising or demographic routes. While the company does not disclose sales figures, Spirer said the company’s advertising budget runs about $15,000 to $25,000 a month.

* Sandy Goldman, vp of Shoppers Express, announced this month’s launch of ShoppingLink, an Internet home shopping and delivery service that will be available through Pavilions supermarkets in Los Angeles and Kroger supermarkets in Dallas. By yearend, ShoppingLink will be available in 13 markets.

Unlike shopping services that utilize proprietary software, such as Peapod, ShoppingLink will be on the Internet’s World Wide Web. The system will be scalable to a national level and will feature such promotions as on-line coupons and recipes.

* John Bly, managing partner, AT&T, showcased new electronic shopping applications called “avatars,” which allow surfers to enter virtual stores from Tower Records and Levi Strauss. Internet marketing, unlike mass marketing, is “one-to-one,” encourages customer responses to products and services and has given rise to a number of win-win marketing alliances. Even in today’s intensly competitive environment, Bly said, “When it comes to the Internet, your enemy yesterday could be your friend today.”

* Fred Smuda, partner at Yankelovich Partners, shared information about emerging Internet usage patterns from his company’s recently released Cybercitizen study. The most glaring statistic: The study found that among the Internet’s 20 million to 24 million users, the average user spends 16 hours a month on line. While most users are men, Smuda noted that the number of women users is growing twice as fast as the number of male users.

* Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, maintained that female on-line shoppers seek out sites that offer many of the elements they prefer while shopping in-store, such as selection, good value, good visuals, quick purchasing and one–stop shopping.

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