EDITORIAL: Dotcom survivors waited for internet buying to catch on

How many Christmas presents will you be buying online this year?

Marketing's research from Taylor Nelson Sofres this week shows that 74%

of those with net access won't be buying any. True, more are buying

online than last year, but the fact is, most of us aren't.



But another survey by Amazon last week showed that seven million working

hours a year are being lost by staff taking time off work to fit in

their festive shopping.



It doesn't quite add up. We may be 'time-poor and cash-rich' as the

saying goes, but at the start of 2002 it seems we're still prepared to

brave the weather, the crowds and the queues to buy at the same old

shops. Retailers that two years ago were described as 'struggling' and

berated for having no online strategy are in far better shape today than

the likes of boo.com and Etoys.



As we all know, the online shopping revolution failed to happen for many

of the dotcom entrepreneurs of 1999. There is light at the end of the

tunnel, however. Lastminute.com's recent announcement that it could

break even by 2003 may mean it joins the ranks of dotcom survivors, as

featured on page 22.



So what are the lessons that we can learn from these survivors - was it

a good proposition, a brilliant marketing plan or simply luck that kept

them alive? At first glance, the only common theme uniting this group

seems to be the prevalence of certain sectors, such as travel. These

have undoubtedly capitalised on the fact that consumers had such a

dismal high street experience in their market that almost anything

quicker and easier could have improved it.



Most, too, have some kind of unique offer. Ebay allowed consumers to do

something entirely new. Prior to this, 'auctions' involved coughing from

the back of some dusty room to bid for a 19th-century grandfather clock.

But this still doesn't explain why these survived and others didn't.



Brent Hoberman, of lastminute.com, says many firms went under because

they were only in it to "make a quick buck". But surely it is not as

simple - or as cynical - as that.



The dotcoms that survived have also been the ones that did not expect

the revolution to come at once. These sites built their consumer bases

accordingly.



While the losers blew their borrowed budgets on expensive brand

advertising campaigns, hoping to reap returns quickly through

advertising income, the dotcom survivors have combined well-targeted

online marketing strategies with cautious offline brand building.



They have expanded gradually, ensuring their technology and fulfilment

systems worked first before making promises. In other words, they have

waited for consumers - and consequently advertisers - to catch up with

technology.



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