A farewell to stores; welcome distributed merchandising, sales
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I wrote that online advertising is dead. Now I’m here to tell you that online stores are dead, too.
Well, maybe not exactly dead — but, like banner ads, they soon will be, if those who build and operate them don’t wise up.
Many merchants build their online stores as analogues of physical stores, often overlooking the Web’s rich possibilities. The typical online store has points of entry, merchandise displays, shopping carts, and a single point of sale, not to mention plenty of signs, special promotions, and “billboard” advertising on the major portals to draw people in. It’s just like a brick-and-mortar shop, except it’s online.
But what if online merchants started thinking about merchandising and sales in a distributed way, to match the Internet’s distributed nature? Rather than making the customer come to the merchandise, merchants could start taking their merchandise right to the customer.
Merchants can do this right now, through their existing banner advertisements. Web advertising, as I wrote a few weeks ago, is hardly living up to its potential with static brand messages (see “Online advertising: a $3 billion industry limping on its last legs,” Oct. 4, page 72).
It’s as if, in the early days of television, cameras were simply trained on Burma-Shave signs and the resulting static images were broadcast as cutting-edge commercials.
Instead, why not use the Web’s reach and interactive potential to deliver specific product offerings through online advertising spaces? One company, Vitessa (formerly known as EC Direct), simplifies that process through its Internet Product Code technology, which enables merchants to embed clickable product offers in banner ads — as well as in e-mail messages, online text chats, shopping carts, and other places (see www.vitessa.com).
To make distributed merchandising work, you need two things. First, remote points of sale need to be fast and easy to use. Customers should be able to make an impulse purchase with a minimum of clicks and guesswork.
Second, don’t let your advertising and marketing people design these distributed product offerings. You wouldn’t let an advertising agency stock the shelves in your physical store, so why let them control your merchandising online? Hire direct marketing specialists, or, better yet, people with experience in Internet merchandising.
Of course, online ads and virtual stores will never go away completely. But online merchants have got to start capitalizing on the Internet’s full potential to be really successful. One way to start is with distributed merchandising.
Farewell, readers
Over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about doing business online — and I hope you have, as well. Now, it’s time for me to move on and to try my own hand at starting an Internet business.
I’ll miss writing this column every week, and I’ll miss working with InfoWorld’s talented, dedicated editors. But most of all, I’ll miss hearing from you, InfoWorld’s savvy and opinionated readers.
I’ll continue to write my Internet business newsletter, The Tweney Report. If you’d like to stay in touch, stop by my Web site, at www.tweney.com, and sign up for my newsletter there.
So long, and thanks for all the e-mail!
Dylan Tweney is the content development manager for InfoWorld Electric. He has been writing about the Internet since 1993.

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