News item: A startup-up Internet pure-play retailer announces it is giving away 10 bucks to every customer who shops at its site. A story from mid-1999? Guess again. This item is from a week ago. Right in the middle of 2001.
So is the purveyor of this promotion some kind of e-commerce Rip Van Winkle, just kicking off the sheets after a nap of several years?
Or is this a coolly calculated gamble likely to pay dividends down the road?
History is decidedly not on the side of MySalesStore.com, the Reno, Nevada-based e-tailer behind the pay-to-shop promotion. As we all remember, free stuff used to be all over the place on the Web.
Remember Mothernature.com? That site gave away the farm and then bought it. Mothernature offered a US$20 first purchase for free, free shipping, and when your box of goodiesarrived in the mail, you got a Mothernature pen andnote pad or pill box for good measure.
There are plenty of other examples, of course, and many of them led to the same result. These companies were in damn-the-consequences, full-customer-acquisition mode, ready to give away the store if need be. Which is what they did.
You can’t fool Mother Nature and now you can’t find Mothernature.com online.
MySalesStore.com apparently thinks it has a unique enough businessmodel to escape the fate of its predecessors. And it just might. The siteis trying to borrow a page from the eBay handbook for online profits, neveractually touching the stuff it “sells.”
Instead, MySalesStore acts as the marketing and sales agent for producers and suppliers of home goods. It takes your money and the manufacturer actually sends you the product.
A minor difference? Not really. The fact is that what brought Mothernature.com down was a combination of its insanely high customer-acquisition costs and the millions it had to spend on inventory, warehouses and the employees to move the inventory in and out.
Now, MySalesStore isn’t taking aim at the entire market for Websales, as eBay is doing. At least not yet.
However, MySalesStore isn’t content withstaying an off-the-radar niche site forever. It’s got affiliations withYahoo! Shops and has tied into a charity network that puts its name infront of millions of Web surfers in a positive light.
But maybe the most important part of this particular Web strategyis the timing. When Mothernature.com was luring me with its $20 free stuffoffer, it was one of a hundred similar come-ons.
Now, free stuff — even free content, for that matter — is getting harder to find. That means that this latest offer stands out a little more prominently. But far more importantly, the startup is taking a contrary approach.
Conventional wisdom says slow and steady is now the recipe, that it’s better to be conservative. But conventional wisdom, you’ll recall, is what led to the bubble and then to the burst.
Is free shopping money a solid foundation on which to build a business? Of course not, but in this e-tail environment, where everyone is playing defense, a little commotion is like a refreshing breeze. A real blast from the past.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.