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CEA Forum Gives E-Commerce Advice

LOS ANGELES -- E-commerce isn't just about e-tailing. It could also save you money on standard business operations. That surprising idea and several others were volunteered during the Internet portion of the Consumer Electronics Association's Business Solutions Series 2000, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The seminar covered strategies and technologies to attract and keep visitors to companies' sites, as well as ways to help cut everyday business costs.

During the panel called "You Have a Website? Now What?" Tom DuBois, president/CEO of Active Research, pointed out several interesting e-tailing trends. So far, he said, 69 percent of all consumer electronics sold online are to men and 31 percent are to women, although "that ratio varies from product category to product category."

DuBois also said that consumer studies prove that convenience is the value of shopping online. "You are able to understand the product, the customer service involved, ease of use and other issues," he explained. "Our studies show that 91 percent are satisfied or somewhat satisfied with online purchases in consumer electronics. The biggest complaint is delivery time, customer service or lack of information."

As for providing information, etown.com takes care of that. The website is actively selling its content and licensing its expertise as part of its business plan.

CEO Robert Heiblim explained etown's operation this way: "We are a content producer and a vertical service provider. What are consumers doing when they make a purchase? You must provide information, and we do that. Consumers love the convenience and the large amount of product information we provide. You can't bring a salesperson on the 'Net, but in our opinion, content is what they need."

In a roundtable called "Creating an Easy Shopping Experience for Your Regulars," various approaches were volunteered to achieve that goal.

Jim Rose, CEO of MobShop, allows consumers who want a TV, VCR or any other CE product to "aggregate their purchasing power" by bidding on specific products. Consumers volunteer offers for selected products, and as more and more participants bid, the price for everyone goes down during the duration of the deal. "This is significantly different than static retail," he said.

At MobileToys.com, which specializes in the mobile electronics industry, CEO Bob Fields said its 1,200 member retailers must meet requirements to be part of the site -- with the key criterion being that they have certified CEA installers. "With mobile electronics you need qualified installers to avoid returns."

Rose noted that the site "links their ZIP code to see which retailers are available in their area. We provide graphics of products, features and pricing information . but we don't sell price."

Cycore USA presents products in a multimedia format called Cult3D, explained president/CEO Jim Madden. Cult3D describes product in detail, but with interactivity that enables consumers to spin and zoom the product to view it from any perspective.

"If a picture is worth a thousand words, a multimedia picture is worth a million," Madden said.

And in a seminar called Internet Solutions to Streamline Your Business, Web suppliers discussed how to cut costs by using online capabilities, echoing some of the sentiments of keynote speaker Jerry Storch of Target.

Alex Kormushoff, manufacturing, retail & distribution VP of Sapient Corp., said that with the Web, "the consumer takes control through direct sales, [traditional] retail or online stores."

Kormushoff stressed, "The new consumer demands convenience, interaction with a brand anytime, anywhere. There is no longer a question of an either-or approach to retail channels. You browse online and buy in the store, or browse there and buy online. This offers lots of flexibility."

The flexibility of the Web can help back-office operations, according to Ken Kristal, co-founder and managing director of CETRADE.com, which is bringing global trading of consumer electronics to the Web.

Kristal explained that his business-to-business exchange, which debuted at CES in January, has 395 member companies in 37 countries.

The process is simple: a buyer or seller registers at the website and can put products up for sale or make bids anonymously. When the transaction is completed, the seller is given the buyer's name and CETRADE.com gets a 4 percent fee from the seller.

"Our service provides small and mid-size companies an economical way to buy and sell products, with more efficiency, lower costs and higher profits," Kristal said.

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