If last Christmas established the Internet as a viable retail channel, then this holiday season should give form to e-tailing's vast, amorphous playing field.
Indeed, as we approach the final fourth quarter of the century, some 200 web sites are vying for the $411 million that Forrester Research says consumers will spend online for CE products this year. But whoever wins that race has a pretty good shot at the big prize: over $6 billion in CE cyber sales by 2003.
Here then, TWICE handicaps 25 e-tailers -- both present and future -- who, by being the first, the biggest or the best, will garner sales and attention this Fall. --Alan Wolf
Originally started as an online bookstore, aggressively expanding into CE, toys and other areas. Began selling consumer electronics this summer. 1998 total sales, $610 million.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, communications PC: computer add-ons, printers, scanners
Major Brands: Hitachi, Olympus, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony, 3Com, Toshiba
Key Features: Offers prizes; e-mail from CE editors with purchase recommendations; consumer reviews.
Associated Volume Buyers (AVB)www.brand-source.com
Only Internet store launched by a buying group to date, and one of only a handful of sites selling major appliances online. Plans to offer hundreds of items by the end of 1999, possibly including big-screen TVs and furniture.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, home satellite systems, major appliances PC: none
Major Brands: DirecTv, Fisher & Paykel, Frigidaire, GE, JVC, Pioneer, RCA, Sharp, Whirlpool, Zenith
Key Features: Fulfillment/installation handled locally by 1,800 member stores nationwide. Links to manufacturers' web sites for product information.
Ranked number one on TWICE's CE Retail Registry, has some 315 stores in 36 states. Says it will add CE products to its Internet site for online sales in fall of 1999. Fiscal-1999 sales, $10.1 billion, up 21% from fiscal 1998.
Product Mix:CE: current online offerings limited to CDs and DVDs only PC: none
Major Brands: NA
Key Features: Product info including SKU number and price to facilitate in-store purchasing; posts in-store weekly ads; has Learn About function for major features that is not presently operational.
Started in 1996, this privately owned Internet retailer offers computing and entertainment products. Its web site is divided into seven stores including Buycomp.com, Buysoft.com and Buysurplus.com (where CE products are sold). Estimated Internet sales, $100 million.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, digital cameras PC: hardware, software and accessories
Major Brands: Compaq, IBM, Nokia, Philips, 3Com, Toshiba
Key Features: Buttons to pages listing products from specific manufacturers, rebates and weekly specials.
A virtual department store selling toys, tools, home fashions, kitchenware and CE products. The bare-bones web site features clickable categories and a search-by-vendor function. Pricing reportedly adheres to MAP agreements, although the e-tailer guarantees to match competitors' prices or refund the difference. Merging with e4L (Everything for Less), an infomercial broadcaster with an online warehouse club.
Product Mix:CE: video, audio, PDAs, communications PC: handhelds, games
Major Brands: Motorola, Pioneer, RCA, Sharp, 3Com, Toshiba
Key Features: Free classified ads for used items, prizes, no sales tax except in Oklahoma.
Privately held. Begun in 1977 as a husband-and-wife operation, Portland, Ore.-based Camera World ranks as one of the largest mail-order retailers of photo and video gear in the U.S. and Canada. Estimated total sales: $80 million.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, cameras, communications PC: scanners, printers, monitors
Major Brands: Aiwa, Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony
Key Features: Free shipping on web orders; no sales tax; 800 number or e-mail for price quotes; articles written by staff members and guest writers provide shopping tips.
CDW Computer Centerswww.cdw.com
Publicly held. Markets through its catalog and other direct-mailing programs, two retail outlets and the Internet. Approximately 87% of CDW's sales were business, government and institutional last year. Total sales, $1.7 billion.
Product Mix:CE: none PC: hardware, software, networking products, supplies/books
Major Brands: Apple, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Magnavox, Motorola, 3Com
Key Features: Tech support; free newsletters; FTP site for software downloads; buyer's alerts by e-mail; product reviews from ZDNet; product comparisons of up to five items.
Circuit City Storeswww.circuitcity.com
Publicly held. Ranked number two on TWICE's CE Registry with 600-plus stores across the U.S. Launched its web store in July. Consumers can use the site (recognized for its depth of information by Fortune) to gather product info or to make purchases directly. Total sales for fiscal year ending in February, $10.8 billion.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, digital cameras, PDAs PC: hardware, software, accessories and books
Major Brands: Compaq, DirecTv, Harman Kardon, JVC, RCA, Sony, Zenith
Key Features: Learn About sections to research models or features; side-by-side product comparisons. Customers can choose to save shipping charges by picking up orders at local store. In-store pickups are guaranteed the lower of online or storefront price.
Publicly held. Ranked numbers one and three, respectively, on TWICE's Computer Product and CE Registries with more than 200 stores in 40 states. Supports its sales with technical services (warranty support, installation, repair, upgrades) and training programs. Total sales for fiscal year ended in June: $5.3 billion.
Product Mix:CE: digital cameras, PDAs PC: hardware, software, networking products, accessories
Major Brands: Franklin, Hewlett-Packard, Nikon, Nintendo, Sony
Key Features: Download Store to buy and receive software online; Notebook Advisor to assist with product selection.
Privately held. Two retail stores in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, Va. Started in 1974 as a mail -order car stereo business, this CE e-commerce pioneer now offers home audio/video and car audio both on the web and through its catalog.
Product Mix:CE: mobile electronics, home theater, home audio/video, accessories PC: none
Major Brands: Bose, JBL, Kenwood, Panasonic/ Technics, Sony, Yamaha
Key Features: Shipping fees determined by total order cost and free returns; toll-free tech assistance for both pre- and post-sale; e-mail price quotes; selector by vehicle for car audio; Info Center for product selection and installation help; product comparison feature for selected items.
Publicly held. Started in 1995, this Internet-only retailer operates Outpost.com for computer hardware, software and accessories. Offers more than 160,000 products. Sells to consumers and SOHO users as well as corporate, government and educational institutions. A substantial number of sales come from international customers, as Cyberian has translated its web site into 12 foreign languages. Will launch e-commerce joint venture with Tweeter etc. this fall. Total sales (excluding advertising revenue): $85.2 million for fiscal year ended February 28.
Product Mix:CE: none PC: hardware, software, accessories
Major Brands: Canon, Compaq, Diamond Multimedia, Epson, IBM, ViewSonic
Key Features: Free shipping, online auctions, specials, electronic software downloads, newsletters.
800.com (Ultimate Electronics Zone)www.800.com
Founded in 1997 by CEO Greg Drew. Provides integrated information on a wide selection of products, including online price and product comparisons, expert advice, user feedback and recommendations, product review, tutorials and other features. Signed $10 million deal with AOL for preferred placement on AOL, CompuServe and Netscape shopping sites. Mounting $25 million ad campaign later this year.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, mobile electronics, communications, digital cameras PC: none
Major Brands: Canon, Jensen, Philips, TDK, Toshiba, Vtech
Key Features: Free shipping and no sales tax; 30-day money-back guarantee; support through 1-800 call center.
Publicly held. Closed its stores and shifted entirely to e-commerce model in February 1998, renaming itself Egghead.com. The online store has three shopping formats: the Superstores offer new, current-version computer hardware and software products; SurplusDirect offers excess, closeout, refurbished and reconditioned merchandise at liquidation prices; and the Auction format offers computers and general merchandise by bids. Recently merged with Onsale.com, an online auctioneer, with which it will consolidate stores. Total sales: $148.7 million for fiscal year 1999, ended April 3.
Product Mix:CE: varies; sold in SurplusDirect, the site's online liquidation center PC: hardware, software, and accessories
Major Brands: Compaq, Epson, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, 3Com
Key Features: Extensive product info including links to manufacturers' web sites; offers software downloads. Also sells merchandise by telephone and catalog.
Offers over 200 brands. A joint venture between two publicly traded companies, Tops Appliance City (ranked numbers 11 and 59, respectively, on TWICE's Major Appliance and CE Registries) and Cybershop International, an upscale online retailer. Tops operates nine retail stores as well as a commercial division in the N.Y./N.J. metropolitan area. Web site revamped in June to offer easier navigation, faster downloads, a streamlined checkout process and 24-hour turnaround backed by $70 million in inventory. Nonetheless, Tops said site was drag on second-quarter earnings.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, communications, cameras/optics, mobile electronics, housewares and major appliances PC: hardware, software
Major Brands: Canon, Compaq, Diamond, Frigidaire, JVC, NEC, RCA, Sharp, Zenith
Key Features: Features include UPS shipping options; shipping for major appliances and big-screen TVs; a best-price guarantee; and seasonal assortments of products.
Started by a group of CE reporters, E/town offers breaking news, features, reviews, columns, message board, an extensive library and links to other CE sites. Overhauled its site this summer to offer consumers more convenient way to understand, research, select and purchase consumer electronics. Also launched a DealerWeb Retail Federation to provide retailers and manufacturers with additional online sales opportunities. Visitors select a retailer for their purchases, which sets its own prices, specials and service options. E/town serves as an intermediary or consumer advocacy site between the consumer and the fulfillment options.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, home theater, communications, portable electronics PC: none
Major Brands: Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Toshiba
Key Features: Interactive shopping assistance (IDA, in collaboration with "Ask Jeeves") presently available for home theater only; chats, messaging topic areas.
Publicly held. To fill its near-vacant warehouses and capitalize on its product distribution strengths, Fingerhut handles web-sales order processing for some 20 companies, including Wal-Mart and Pier 1. Also has a 40% equity share in Roxy.com, a major online retailer of home satellite systems, and wholly owns Andy's Garage Sale (AndysAuctions.com and AndysGarage.com), top destinations of online bargain hunters. Federated Department Stores acquired Fingerhut for $1.7 billion earlier this year. Total sales: $1.6 billion for fiscal 1999 ended January.
Product Mix:CE: communications PC: hardware, accessories
Major Brands: Canon, Everex, Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark, ProTek, Trogon
Key Features: Thirty-day home trial period. Browse online selections, request catalog, order from catalog, check order status.
Publicly held. Started in 1994, Onsale offers merchandise through two online shops. Onsale atAuction sells excess merchandise and services, including refurbished and closeout computers, peripherals and consumer electronics. Onsale atCost.com, added January 1999, sells only new computers and peripherals at wholesale prices. Approximately 75% of total sales come from computer products. Orders are shipped from its warehouses or direct by the manufacturer. More than 1,000 other web sites have links to Onsale. Total 1998 revenues including commissions, $234.4 million. Sales for 1999 are projected to increase approximately 30% to $271 million. Recently merged with Egghead.com, with which it will consolidate stores.
Product Mix:CE: cameras, PDAs PC: hardware, software, networking products
Major Brands: Acer, Compaq, Diamond, Epson, IBM, NEC, ViewSonic
Key Features: Shipping fees, a profit center for Onsale's business model, are determined by total order cost. Sales tax charged only for California and Michigan; special "e-mail only" prices and prizes.
Publicly held. Ranked number four on TWICE's CE Registry. Plans to offer over 30,000 SKUs when e-commerce function launches this fall. Parent Tandy fully intends to leverage its 7,000-plus company-owned or franchised stores, making RadioShack the model "click-and-mortar" retailer. Total sales for the fiscal year ended December 1998: $4.8 billion.
Product Mix:CE: none PC: none
Major Brands: NA
Key Features: Presently offers no online sales; links only to monthly special fliers. Search function features product support, online manuals, downloads, updates and setups. Also features Steve's Workbench, a source of education and entertainment for the electronics-related Internet community.
Publicly held. Operates over 200 stores, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, in small to medium-sized markets. Total sales: $416.7 million for fiscal 1998, ended January.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, home theater, mobile electronics, communications PC: none
Major Brands: Casio, Sharp, Toshiba, Uniden
Key Features: Limited online offerings. No sales tax except to Ohio. Offers special deals to online consumers.
Internet-only retailer, based in Hopkinton, Mass. Forty-percent owned by Federated/Fingerhut, Roxy advertises on Yahoo, ESPN and the Excite Networks and is linked to Fingerhut's other online holdings. For the new Macys.com/Roxy.com partnership announced in June, Roxy handles all sales, customer service and fulfillment and provides product advice. Everything Wireless (www.everythingwireless.com), a division of Roxy, is one of the first online specialists in cellular and PCS phones, accessories, pagers and other wireless products.
Product Mix:CE: home satellite systems, audio, video, wireless PC: none
Major Brands: DirecTv, JVC, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp
Key Features: Digital products, requiring high-level information and service support, make up the bulk of Roxy's product mix; price alerts via e-mail; e-mail technical support; 30-day money-back guarantee.
Sears, Roebuck and Co.www.sears.com
Publicly held. Ranked numbers one and five, respectively, on TWICE's Major Appliance and CE Registries, Sears introduced online majap sales this spring, offering fulfillment and installation through its 700 storefronts nationwide. Expected to add CE to online mix. Total sales for the fiscal year ended January: $41.3 billion; $5.1 billion from major appliances, $3.5 billion from consumer electronics.
Product Mix:CE: major appliances; others as weekly in-store specials only PC: as weekly in-store specials only
Major Brands: Bose, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, Maytag, Mustek
Key Features: Knowledge Center provides product information; site also allows side-by-side product comparisons. In-store weekly specials posted; e-mail contacts provided.
Publicly held, fiscal year ended in January. Acquired in March 1999 by Compaq and the AltaVista Company as part of Compaq's move into Internet marketing, Shopping.com is an operating division of AltaVista, a wholly owned subsidiary of Compaq. Ownership will change again with the sale of AltaVista to Internet investment firm CMGI. Shopping.com's Ultimate Brands Auction offers new brand-name merchandise spanning the product spectrum. New emphases will include improved customer service, upgraded goods, and the use of AltaVista's search capabilities to create an Internet "Ultrastore." Total sales for the nine months ended October 31, 1998, $4.0 million, up from $376,800 during the year-ago period. Net loss for the nine months: $18.9 million.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, communications PC: hardware, software
Major Brands: AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, JVC, Panasonic, Philips, Princeton Graphics, Sony, 3Com
Key Features: 30-day, 125% satisfaction guarantee
Tweeter Home Entertainment Groupwww.tweeter.com
Publicly held. Tweeter's expansion spree continued unabated this summer when the upmarket A/V chain bought Dow Stereo-Video and joined forces with PC e-tailing pioneer Cyberian Outpost. The expected result: an online extension of the store's high-end, service-intensive strategy that will be buoyed by its newfound nationwide presence.
Product Mix:CE: none PC: none
Major Brands: Will offer only factory authorized merchandise; currently seeking e-commerce approval from manufacturers.
Key Features: Tweeter.com is informational only; will launch first selling site, Tweeter@outpost.com, this fall.
Publicly held, with IPO on April 8. Headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., the company is a direct and factory-authorized marketplace for technology, office and consumer products. Based on Price Club's business model, the company has strategic alliances with over 800 brand-name manufacturers. Web site has a database-driven design with a proprietary software system and the latest EDI technology to expedite the ordering process. Total sales for the fiscal year ended December: $41.5 million.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, mobile electronics, communications, cameras, batteries, home entertainment centers PC: hardware, software, accessories and books
Major Brands: Aiwa, AMS, Canon, IBM, Sharp
Key Features: Multimedia presentations for product information and review. 15-day return policy; ships directly from manufacturers or distributors; frequent-buyer award program.
Publicly held. The world's largest retailer, with more than 3,600 stores worldwide, is bigger than Sears, Kmart and JCPenney combined. The company has been quietly building its e-commerce skill set, having developed proprietary Internet software that was copied by Amazon.com and by inking a deal with Fingerhut in July that will provide wal-mart.com with order fulfillment. Improvements are also planned for the site itself, which may include streamlining the buying process, addressing privacy and security concerns, and expanding product offerings to parallel those in its stores. Total sales for fiscal year ended January: $137.6 billion; Wal-Mart stores and superstores in the U.S. excluding Sam's, $95.4 billion. CE sales, $3.45 billion.
Product Mix:CE: audio, video, mobile electronics, communications, cameras PC: hardware, software, accessories
Major Brands: Canon, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Philips Magnavox, RCA, Sega
Key Features: Presently offering a limited selection of items across a broad spectrum of product categories. But given its size and retail expertise, has potential to dominate online space as effectively as it has the brick & mortar world.