Boo.com to Rise Again, Run by Fashionmall

Fashionmall.com is getting ready to reopen Boo.com's virtual doors this fall.

But the new Boo.com will operate differently than the original London-based fashion retailer did before its investors pulled the plug on Boo.com Groupin May.

Fashionmall.com in New York, which bought the Boo.com domain name and other assets in the spring, said that instead of carrying its own inventory, the new Web site will function as a portal that links online shoppers directly to products sold on the Internet by manufacturers and retailers.

In an interview with Computerworld reporter Carol Sliwa, Ben Narasin, 34, the president and CEO of Fashionmall.com, discussed the company's future plans for Boo.com.

Q: Bright Station PLC acquired Boo.com's technology. What did you buy?A: We bought everything else. It was great for us because we wanted Boo, but we didn't want Boo to be a retailer anymore.

And we didn't want to be saddled with [its technology] infrastructure. I mean, we just had zero interest in that. As a nonretailer, as a portal, we get no value. So we bought all the trademarks, all the URLs, all the content.

In our business model, the back end is fulfilled by our clients, not by us.

We're all about thin. We want you to very quickly get what you want. Our job is not to send you products. Our job is to introduce you to the person [who] has the product [and] can send it to you.

Q: Are you trying to build a fashion mall with the Boo name?A: That was the initial thought, but I think that Boo goes a lot further than that. I think it means a lot more.

See, Fashionmall puts walls on its growth because of the words "fashion" and "mall." Boo doesn't do that. . . . [Boo. com] is our tool to go global.

Q: Will you provide links to the Web sites of companies that offer products through Boo.com?A: That's a core question. Our business has always been predicated on linking to sites. [But] the Boo model will be about linking to products.

You may have [an online] store that carries a lot of things, of which 2% are relevant to [our] audience. It is not our mission to send the Boo consumer into the store so they can get lost in the other 98%.

Q: If customers order five different products from five different manufacturers or retailers, will they get five different boxes in the mail?A: Yes. The average order is two products. So, generally speaking, we know that's a concern. Statistically, it doesn't happen that often. It's not the general way that people shop.

[But] going forward, at some point in the future, would it make sense not just to aggregate demand and vendors but to have a centralized distribution structure? Perhaps.

Q: What was the biggest mistake Boo.com made?A: The biggest lesson I've ever learned - and I think it's the same thing they also suffered from - is you've got to be willing to be wrong, and you've got to be willing to be wrong really quickly.

We used to have a universal shopping basket of our own . . . and we redesigned it. It took about six or seven months . . . [and] it encompassed everything we ever dreamed of.

We rolled it out, and the day we rolled it out, sales dropped by 50%. We left it up for one week to make sure it wasn't an anomaly, and then we threw it away and took our lessons from it. But the thing here is, we didn't get married to this product because we'd invested in it.

That's a mistake that a lot of people make.

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