Web Strategies Abound At GERS Conference

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If customers of GERS Retail Systems wanted to get a definitive update on e-commerce, all they had to do was attend the company's user conference held at the San Diego Hyatt Regency Hotel during late August.

Called Retail World '99 "Link To The Future," speakers such as president/CEO Jim Henderson, executive VP marketing & support Don Vander Beke, and keynoter Chuck Martin, journalist, author and lecturer on technology and the web, had plenty to say.

Henderson told its retail customers and technology partners that GERS has seen "brick & mortar retailers grow dramatically" during the past year, "while producing declines." Much of that has to do with "the rapid growth of non-store activity [and] direct sales. channel conflict" and brand integrity being challenged. Most of these trends have to do with e-commerce.

Vander Beke put it plainly: "The mainstream acceptance of e-commerce has grown." He advised that if a retailer is going to implement an e-commerce strategy it has to be "one that differentiates you from your competitors. The net is here to stay and is not going away."

In a wide-ranging address on the Internet and e-commerce, Martin, who is currently chairman/CEO of netfutureinstitute.com, volunteered, "People in this environment think differently," and explained how. He noted that the web, "reorganizes the distribution mechanism, reconfigures the relationship in the public's favor, and captures the hearts and minds of consumers."

Martin cited the rise of such sites as carpoint.com, autobytel.com and autoconnect.com, and said, "We now know more than the car salesman does!"

"The web's change in society is monumental, not revolutionary," Martin stressed, while noting that the web enables companies to "aggregate products and service. on demand. Supply and demand becomes demand and supply!"

The cost of entry into this new world "has gone up in the last year or two," therefore, "the Wal-Mart of the web will be the Wal-Mart of today," he said. What does this mean for brick & mortar retailers? Martin said, "You've moved from being a liability to an asset. Many [Internet] companies want to buy or deal with existing companies."

However, Martin stressed several mantras concerning the web: "It's about platform, not content. You must be an aggregator, and you must give information back to consumers. It's about communications, and it's about speed and market velocity."

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