The Dot-Com That Would Not Die

The dot-com graveyard had been prepped, the headstone carved and polished. The mourners were gathered, dressed in black and ready to toss worthless stock certificates onto the casket.

Just one snafu: Someone forgot to tell the guest of honor about this particular funeral.

It was nearly six months ago that Buy.com was proclaimed as good as dead by analysts and casual observers. The e-tailer’s run on the Nasdaq had come to an unceremonious end in August 2001, and it soon found itself in danger of losing its ability to process credit cards — a certain fatal blow for an online merchant.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard. Buy.com refused to die.

Behind the Curtain

Buy.com is now in private hands, so for all the public knows the company could be bleeding cash even faster than it did in its public days, when it had a real knack for losing money.

But secrecy is preferable, in a way. It adds a certain amount of suspense. Has Buy.com truly turned itself around, or is it just one press release away from finally reaching the cemetery, albeit somewhat behind schedule?

Public dot-coms die predictable and ugly deaths. First, the stock does the death spiral. Then comes delisting, which is inevitably followed by bankruptcy. Sometimes there’s life after death, but the resurrected version is never quite the same as the original.

Buy.com founder Scott Blum, who bought back the e-tailer, apparently couldn’t let that fate befall his brainchild. His dot-com wouldn’t cower in the corner and wait for the grim reaper.

Kicking and Screaming

Of course, whether or not Buy.com’s attempts to survive will work is still an open question. What’s more, not everyone agrees that the company’s moves since going private all make good business sense.

Not long ago, Buy.com launched its own magazine, a road that EBay traveled down only to find a dead end. Is it a great marketing idea or a foolish waste of money? The answer may be: We’ll never know.

In fact, that answer also applies to the latest Buy.com experiment, in which the company has pledged to ship product worldwide and to translate shipping costs into shoppers’ local currency. Analysts say others have tried this strategy and retreated.

Never Wavering

So, what makes Buy.com think it’s any different? Stubbornness, apparently. And unlike mules and roommates, stubbornness is a great trait in a business. Whatever you do, believe you do it better than anyone. Believe you can succeed where others stumble.

Do it enough and you’ll either be a hero or run out of town on a rail. Just ask Carly Fiorina, who will learn her fate when the HP-Compaq merger vote is in. Fiorina has found herself in a war zone, taking flak every day but never wavering in her belief that the merger is the right thing for both companies.

That kind of single-mindedness is all too rare these days. Politicians sway with the political winds, and dot-coms change business models so often it’s hard to remember how they started out.

Paging Dr. Doom

But Buy.com is what it always has been: a pure-play e-tailer specializing in the incredibly un-lucrative and expensive-to-ship consumer electronics segment.

The gravediggers got tired of waiting, and they’ve gone home. They’re on call 24 hours a day just in case, but they might never get the call to bury this particular dot-com. And wouldn’t we all be pleasantly surprised if that were to be the case?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


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.


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