Time for Suppliers to Get Online
By Jennifer Marks -- Home Textiles Today, 7/11/2005 12:00:00 AM
Around 1996 or so, I was part of a team that put together a special report on Internet retailing. One section of the report featured print-outs of retailers' home pages — which at the time was about all there was to most retail Web sites.
In fact, the report was essentially an explanation of the Internet. Since few retailers were moving aggressively in the online arena at the time, there were few case studies available. Internet retailing conferences of the era were populated by consultants offering blue skies scenarios for future selling opportunities.
Experts debated whether commodities such as food and aspirin could viably be sold online. Soon, the ether was populated by a generation of “virtual retailers” such as garden.com, drugstore.com and musicboulevard.com. Trade paper editorialists — including yours truly — fretted over the future of bricks-and-mortar retailing.
This month, as Amazon.com celebrates its 10th anniversary, it's fascinating to consider how far online commerce has come. Many of the leading pure-play etailers — those with no anchor in the bricks-and-mortar world — ultimately aligned with or were absorbed by established chains. Catalogers vastly expanded their reach. And bricks-and-mortar retailers extended the power of their nameplates once they moved into e-commerce.
The multi-channel model today is considered integral to the business. It allows Target to offer a broad range of furniture that can't be profitably carried in-store. It allows Wal-Mart to sell cruises and vacation packages. It has put nearly every retailer in every channel into the gift registry business.
It has also raised consumers' expectations — even while offering a bewildering array of choices. A Google search of “sheets” produces more than 80 million hits alongside sponsored links from SmartBargains.com, The Company Store, JCPenney, TheBeddingSite.com, kodisaks.com and BedSheet.com.
In the home textiles world, one group has steadfastly refused to participate in the revolution — suppliers. This is not the case in all home furnishings categories. Appliance manufacturers such as KitchenAid and Cuisinart, for example, sell directly to the public. (Cuisinart even operates its own online gift registry.)
As has been noted in this space before, HTT often receives e-mail from consumers who have searched in vain for supplier Web sites. Meanwhile, suppliers that operate sites continue to link consumers over to retail sites that carry only a limited number of the items suppliers highlight on their pages.
With all the hoopla surrounding Amazon's anniversary, it's time for suppliers to get with the program.
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