User Conference Trumpets Selling Online

SAN FRANCISCO (05/02/2000) - Despite recent reports critical of the future of business-to-consumer Web sites and the drubbing of business-to-consumer vendor stocks on Wall Street, attendees at electronic-business software vendor Blue Martini's user conference are remarkably upbeat about the prospects for both new and established operations targeting consumers.

"Consumers are out there, and they want to buy things," said Paren Knadjian, chief information officer at New Media Network Inc. in Los Angeles, which is readying Egroove.com, which will offer digitized licensed music to online buyers.

Just last night, Gymboree Corp. in Burlingame, California, unveiled its new consumer site. To build it, the company traded its old e-commerce system for one sold by San Mateo, California-based Blue Martini Software, whose first user group meeting, called BluePrint 2000, runs through Wednesday.

Susan Neal, Gymboree's vice president of business development, said the company has made a sizable investment in its Web-selling infrastructure, upgrading not only its e-commerce application, but also its Windows NT computers to Solaris-based servers from Sun Microsystems Inc. to handle the increased traffic on the site.

Neal said that Gymboree is also rolling out a pilot project that will put Palm devices from Palm Inc. into customers' hands inside some of the company's 550 retail outlets nationwide. She said store customers will be able to get more information about the products they see or order versions of the products not in stock for free home delivery over the wireless link in the handheld devices.

Although Egroove.com's Knadjian labeled Blue Martini's product line "expensive," he said, "It has a lot of built-in functions and make it a buy-vs.-build decision for IT."

Mitchell Kramer, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, said, "The business volumes are greater in B-to-B, but that's more about cost justification and supplier relationships. B-to-C is actually a new way of doing business."

"B-to-C is not dead," said Nadine Sakowski, director of engineering at Self Care Inc. in Emeryville, Calif. "Lots of people are shopping on the Internet.

We just want to make it easier for them." Self Care has been selling its health care, beauty aids and other products directly to consumers for 24 years and will be integrating its catalog operations into its Web business, which already boasts 850,000 unique monthly visitors.

For example, customers will be able to use the promotion code on catalogs to get online discounts, allowing the company to gather more detailed demographic data on those buyers.

"We've only scratched the surface of giving consumers an interactive shopping environment," said Monte Zweben, Blue Martini's CEO.

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