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London Times
Aug. 11, 1999

America's One-stop Online Shops

By Tunku Varadarajan
Before beginning to sell its sofas and coffee tables directly to customers online, Ethan Allen, a deeply traditional American furniture company, had to overcome considerable psychological resistance.

The wariness came not from shoppers - most Americans these days are only too eager to browse electronically - but from the independent licensees who own most of the furniture company's 300-odd retail shops.

For some conservative shopkeepers, e-commerce, is still regarded as an over-hyped, largely theoretical fad. After all, shouldn't customers prefer to come into the shop, sit on the love seat, touch the hound's tooth jacket, splash on the eau de cologne? The answer in America, it seems, is not if they can help it.

"Convenience is the major reason that people want to shop on line." says James W. MacIntyre IV, chairman of OneSoft Corporation, an internet commerce consultancy.

"People are busy. E-commerce offers more power to the consumer and makes the market more efficient. You can comparison shop at ten sites immediately instead of taking the time to go from store to store."

Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor of New Media at the Columbia University School of Journalism, says the power of electronic shopping in the US has come as a surprise even to some technology experts. Mr Sreenivasan calls himself "a nightmare for a traditional retailer." He finds most of what he needs - books, Christmas gifts, airline tickets - tax-free online.

"I may go into Barnes & Noble to browse, but then I go home and buy three or four books online. I buy videotapes from - I got Titanic for $ 9 - and CD's from I can't remember the last time I bought a CD in a store."

sree's lowercase world | stuff | london times