No Party at Net Retailers' Conference

SAN FRANCISCO (04/18/2000) - The bright yellow banners blanketing the walls of the San Jose Convention Center might not have done much to lighten the mood, but the organizers of the "eretailing 2000" conference certainly did their best.

Even the portable garbage cans were yellow. From bold blue backpacks, courtesy of Wish.com, to an upbeat presentation by Mark Goldstein, president and CEO of Kmart's BlueLight.com, the conference sought to maintain the mood of unbridled optimism that had been so characteristic of the Internet Economy. Last week's plunge in the Nasdaq was discussed only in quiet undertones as Net executives and analysts lined up to check stock quotes at banks of snazzy computers in a cybercafe corner. Three employees of Wish, an online gift-registry service, lounged around a table during the morning coffee break.

Clad in blue button-downs and matching black hats, they denied that much had changed in the Internet world, at least when it came to their company. "I think that people still basically have optimism about the Internet," said Tony Tomich, director of business development at Wish, which has yet to go public.

"I think a lot of the stocks are overvalued," added project manager Anne Haynes. But Paul Devereau, VP of sales for the customer-service site e-Satisfy.com, pointed out that a friend of his in a different company had planned to buy a home after selling his stocks.

The friend is due to vest in May, but the dream house looks unlikely. Indeed, although many attendees described the market drop as a correction that was both necessary and predictable, some thought the sell-off went too far. Joe Lilly, a senior business analyst at Capital One, said he has never owned pure-play retail stocks because he had long expected them to plunge. But he said he didn't foresee the hit his portfolio of business-to-business and infrastructure stocks might take. "I'm suffering with everyone else, but I don't think I should be," he said.

One great challenge that Internet companies are likely to face in the coming months is attracting and retaining employees. Paul Foucher, the director of affiliate programs at Garden.com, has been with the company for only a month, too short a time to have his own business cards. But although Foucher admitted that the recent market and investor skepticism regarding Netcos has frightened him, he's ready with the lingo. "I think Garden will obviously be one of the survivors," he said.

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