The Dream Still LingersWritten by Rob Spiegel
Remember how world was going to change? Smart sensors in your refrigerator would notice that your milk freshness date had expired and it would add a half gallon to your electronic shopping list. As items gathered, you would click list over to WebVan, which would bring groceries to your door. WebVan, of course, is gone, and my refrigerator certainly doesn't have any sensors.
The WebVan demise produces two responses. The I-told-you-so group gets one more example to support its belief in utter weakness of Internet. This group never believed for a second any of sweeping claims of new, new economy and transformative power of a fully connected world.
The head-in-the-sand group gets to explain, yet again, that WebVan's problem was weak management at top. The executives betrayed a great idea with their stunning incompetence. This group believes Internet has already conquered world and that distraction of WebVan's collapse clouds clear success of Web.
I'm still struggling with a third point of view, which goes something like this: We don't know yet where and how Internet will affect our lives, but eventually, there will be profound changes. Television has certainly had a profound effect on all of us, and Internet is like a few hundred potential TVs. Only right now, we don't know which of these will take root and grow.
There are two clear winners already. Both of them have affected business more than consumers. One is email, and other is business-to-business ecommerce. Email has connected family and friends in a new manner, which helps in a world where children typically live in different states than their parents. But email is not equal to telephone in its ability to let family and friends really communicate.
For business, however, email has completely eliminated typewriter. Business correspondence, proposals, blueprints, legal briefs, all of these standard business communications now travel over Internet delivering considerable savings to both sender and recipient. Count me among those who are convinced that email is truly Web's great killer application.
Adventures in Internet RetailingWritten by Rob Spiegel
The first big surge in ecommerce explosion came from business-to-consumer (B2C) or retail sales. Companies such as America Online, Amazon.com, eBay and Priceline.com became first household names in ecommerce. Their leaders became names that replaced old economy names during 1998 and 1999. We ended last century with Amazon.com's leader Jeff Bezos as Time magazine's Person of Year. In first couple of weeks of new century, Steve Chase led America Online in its purchase of Time Warner. Talk about heady days and sky-high stock valuations.
The speed of ascent was dizzying. In early hours of AOL Time Warner announcement, news stories discussed a merger between Time Warner and AOL. Half of a day went by before I realized that Time Warner wasn't company doing buying. At that moment, it was still inconceivable that a dot com could buy leading offline company in its sector, no matter how big dot com. Of course, given what happened over succeeding year, it again seems inconceivable that a dot com could buy leading offline company in its sector. The dot com fall came fast and hard.
The fall actually came less than three months after AOL Time Warner announcement, in March 2000. But like coyote who runs off cliff chasing roadrunner and doesn't realize at first that he is no longer on solid ground, dot com world kept running along on thin air, not sensing it would soon come to a very painful crash. Yet for all its smugness, dot com world got hit harder than it deserved when it crunched into solid ground. AOL was one of very few companies that had wherewithal to grab ownership of a traditional company at high swell of dot com bubble.
So where does that leave opportunities for niche sites in scorched-ground market of dot com retailers? As with most niche selling, you're left in fairly healthy territory. You have a credibility gap to overcome with potential customers. They will need more reassurance that you can deliver on all of your service and security promises, but customers are still shopping online and their numbers are continuing to grow both nationally and internationally month-by-month.