Thursday, June 03, 2004


Amazon Testing "Plogs"
First recommended products that it thought its customers would find interesting. Now it's taking advantage of the blogging phenomenon by topping its home page with a personalized "Plog," a blog-style feature that links to recommended products and provides relevant information.

"Your Plog is a diary of events that will enhance your shopping experience, helping you discover products that have just been released, track changes to your orders, and many other things," the company says on its site. "Just like a blog, your Plog is sorted in reverse chronological order. When we think we have something interesting or important to tell you, we'll post it to your Plog."
The Plog feature is still in beta testing.
"The goal of the plog service is to provide users with an easy way to keep current on events that are relevant to them," said Craig Berman, director of platform and technology communications at Amazon, in an e-mail exchange. "The service is designed to further enhance the customer experience by providing personalized information, including product recommendations, order updates and other content in one convenient location."
The information that appears in the Plog is driven by Amazon's database of information about a user -- previous purchases and ratings of products. One entry begins: "'The Rule of Four' was released today; We thought you'd be interested because you rated 'The Da Vinci Code'." Following that introduction is a Publishers Weekly review of the newly released book. Each book mention links to its Amazon product page.
To allay privacy concerns, Amazon allows users to opt out of having purchase details shown on the Plog in their account preferences area.
While many businesses, most notably Amazon partner Google, have launched blogs to communicate with the public, the personalized nature of the Plog and its prominent home page placement make Amazon's approach unique. The Plog could almost be called the reverse of a blog. While blogs are usually highly personal diaries produced by an individual and read by others, the Amazon version is produced by a company (or a company's technology) and each version is personalized for just one individual.
So far, there appears to be no RSS feed of the Plog, though it would seem like a natural distribution method. Most blogging software generates an RSS or Atom feed automatically, and Amazon has been a pioneer in using RSS to distribute information about its products. Many marketers and publishers are looking to RSS as a spam-free alternative to e-mail newsletters. (Amazon wouldn't comment on whether an RSS feed is in the works.)
Amazon, through its subsidiary A9, has lately been experimenting with new ways of collecting and using data about its customers. A9 recently launched a search site that keeps a log of users' searches and site visits, also allowing them to keep notes about sites.
Source; ClickZ, May 2004
Write; by Pamela Parker

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The Rise Of The Mompreneurs
EBay has given corporate dropouts a new way to balance work and family
For many high-powered women who put "former" in front of their titles to stop out and stay at home with their kids, selling stuff on eBay often starts as a dalliance, a means of purging closets of never-worn mistakes and stripping the guilt from all those forays to Filene's Basement and the ever-seductive Prada and Gucci outlets. By picking up an extra pocketbook here, a pair of thrift-store-priced stilettos there, these moms in turn flip the items on eBay - essentially shopping their way to earnings.

Ever since founder Pierre M. Omidyar started the global bazaar by selling a broken laser pointer for $14, the eBay economy has given Mayan villagers a chance to sell their pottery to Park Avenue princesses and rural Kansas collectors an opportunity to vie against Christie's. Now, with the help of wireless technology, digital photography, and friendly postmen, eBay is becoming a hot new career for managerial-class moms. "Flexibility is a big part of it. But they also get the opportunity to do something they enjoy," says eBay Inc. CEO and President Margaret C. Whitman. "Often these women are trading in areas they have always been passionate about."

Today, upwards of 430,000 people in the U.S. alone - more than are employed worldwide by General Electric Co. and Procter & Gamble combined - earn a full- or part-time living on eBay selling everything from fashion to farm equipment, with the highest-sellers grossing up to $1 million a month. Of the estimated 48% of these sellers who are women, many are "mompreneurs" - corporate stopouts who have found in eBay a way to tap into an international marketplace from their kitchen tables and finesse a saner work-life balance at the same time. It's no coincidence that the rise of the eBay mompreneurs comes as more highly educated women are choosing to stay at home with young children. The percentage of working women with children under the age of one dropped from a record 59% in 1998 to 55% in 2002, after rising steadily for 30 years. Some see the decrease as a referendum on the work-life balance. As in, it doesn't exist.

On eBay, however, says Marsha Collier, author of the bestselling Starting an eBay Business for Dummies, "there's no commuting. No back-stabbing. No office politics. No glass ceiling. No need to waste gas. No waiting in line at the post office, because they'll pick up for free. I mean, how much better could it be?"

For former Dow Chemical Co. engineer Kim Kincaid of Leavenworth, Kan., not much. She began selling antiques on eBay in 1998 as a hobby (her first coup: a $7.50 Pillsbury Doughboy cookie jar that sold for $75). Today she moves at least $100,000 worth of antiques and rare books a month. But she is still able to arrange her schedule around her four- and 10-year-old sons. "When women look at the workforce once they have children," says Kincaid, who now runs the business with her husband, sister, and parents, "they say: 'I'm going to be working for $2 an hour after child care and not having all that time with my kids."'

Ann Whitley Wood, a Stanford University grad who has a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, quit her job as an appellate attorney at Dallas blue-chip firm Haynes and Boone in 2000 after her second of three children was born. She simply couldn't figure out a way to make the job work part-time. Yet as a buyer on eBay, she was dumbfounded by the volume sellers were doing. So she started experimenting. (Her first sale: an old evening gown hanging in her closet, $400). In 2002, she got more professional, scouring last-call sales for Lilly Pulitzer dresses and Kate Spade handbags. She now makes a decent part-time income.

The idea of selling on eBay came to Elise Wetzel as a way to raise funds for her kids' preschool. Holding a virtual garage sale on eBay seemed like a better idea than pushing overpriced candy or tired wrapping paper. Wetzel, a former director of marketing at Unilever, quit her job after attending her Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management reunion in the summer of 2002. Of all the women there who had two kids, she was the only one who was still working. "It was like I missed the memo," she says. After the school fund-raiser, she was hooked and today has an eBay business called iSold It, which is fast developing into a chain of online consignment stores.

EBay, experts say, is a welcome, recession-proof option for many women, especially since it makes a virtue of the very traits that are often perceived as weaknesses in Corporate America. Research shows, for example, that women's detail-oriented strengths - as well as their tendency to bear down and have lunch at their desks - are impediments to advancement. On eBay, those so-called shortcomings become a competitive advantage, allowing women to provide the kind of high-touch customer service - the Holy Grail among buyers - that the big retailers just can't give. The real test now will be how the eBay entry on the updated résumé plays when they try to return to the corporate world. That is, if they even want to.
Source; BWO, May 2004
Write; by Michelle Conlin in New York

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Abandoned shopping carts an e-tail challenge
More e-tail browsers are turning into buyers-but many are still abandoning their shopping carts before completing a transaction, a study has shown.
The number of shoppers who end up buying something has gone up from 3.5 percent in the last quarter of 2003 to 4 percent in the first quarter of 2004, online marketing company DoubleClick said in a report released Wednesday.
But for every dollar sold, $5 was left in an abandoned cart, DoubleClick said. "It's encouraging to see conversion rates increasing, although abandoned shopping carts still represent an enormous opportunity cost," Court Cunningham, senior vice president at the company, said in a statement.
Although returning customers are just 1 percent of all Web site visitors, they spend the most time - 7.69 minutes on average--and money, about $180 every session, DoubleClick said. Nonbuyers accounted for 95 percent of all visitors but added up to 78 percent of the abandoned carts, the market researcher said.
The study was based on data culled by the company's Web site measurement software, which analyzed the habits of 160 million Web site visitors.
E-commerce Web sites have recently been reporting higher sales. In the first quarter of 2004, sales grew by 28.1 percent, compared with the same period last year.
Source; CNET, May 2004
Write; Dinesh C. Sharma

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Retail Sales Rise, Led by Spring Clothing
U.S. retail sales rose in May as shoppers splurged on spring clothing, undeterred by the impact of rising gasoline prices on household budgets.
Most retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp., outperformed sales expectations for the month, picking up pace from a weak April when they reported their sales on Thursday.
Demand for items such as apparel, electronics and food helped offset the effects of waning tax refunds and a late U.S. Memorial Day, which pushed some sales into June. The companies' outlooks were "limited and somewhat mixed," said Ken Perkins, an analyst for research firm Thomson First Call.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said sales at stores open at least a year, a key retail measure known as same-store sales, rose 5.9 percent last month. That was at the high end of its 4 percent to 6 percent target range for the four weeks ended May 28.
The increase came even after the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company had warned that high prices at the gas pump - which are costing the average American an additional $7 a week - could cut into the pockets of its more than 100 million weekly customers.
Wal-Mart forecast same-store sales will rise at the low end of a 4 percent to 6 percent range in June. Its stock gained 82 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $57.14 on the New York Stock Exchange in late morning trade.

Gas prices have topped $2 a gallon across the United States as the price of crude oil has soared to record highs.
Costco said its May same-store sales jumped 16 percent, well above expectations, on demand for food, electronics and gasoline. The largest U.S. warehouse club operator also sells gasoline at some of its stores.
Discounter Target Corp. said its same-store sales climbed 4.6 percent, roughly in line with its forecast.
Not all flourished. Sears, Roebuck and Co., the largest U.S. department store operator, projected same-store sales would be flat to down slightly in the second quarter, following a worse-than-expected drop in May.

Lackluster children's and home goods businesses weighed on sales at department store chains Dillard's Inc. and May Department Stores Co., and home furnishings retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. cut its quarterly profit view due to a disappointing holiday promotion.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. which posted a 9.1 percent rise in May same-store sales on a strong Mother's Day, also noted "concerns over the impact that higher energy prices" are having on the consumer.
The S&P Retailing index was down Thursday morning but recovered at midday and was up 0.5 percent at 407.59.

Clothing a hit in May
Upscale spring clothing was a bigger hit with shoppers compared with the same month last year, giving a sales boost to department stores such as Federated Department Stores Inc. and Nordstrom Inc., which surpassed analysts' forecasts.
"The mix of sales is good, discounting is under control, and inventory levels are in good shape," said Darrell Rigby, head of Bain & Co.'s global retail practice.

Specialty apparel companies were standouts, including women's chains Talbots Inc. with a better-than-expected 8.1 percent rise, and Limited Brands Inc., which posted a 3 percent increase on robust demand at its Victoria's Secret chain.

Gap, the biggest U.S. specialty apparel retailer, posted a better-than-anticipated 6 percent rise in May same-store sales, driven by summer merchandise such as tank tops and skirts.
"Rising oil prices have slowed consumer spending somewhat. But with incomes rising, the consumer is (spending) a little bit extra," analyst Claire Gallacher of Caris & Co. said, noting that freer spending on clothing was a good sign for the economy.
Source; Reuters, May 2004
Write; by Jackie Sindrich

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Kraft Backs Off on Plan to Reduce Package Sizes
Kraft Foods, Inc. has abandoned its plan to reduce some portion sizes, saying consumer research shows shoppers prefer to have the choice of whether to go with smaller packages.

According to reports, Kraft disclosed the decision in a progress report on the anti-obesity initiatives it announced last July. With the food industry facing growing consumer health concerns and the risk of obesity lawsuits, Kraft had pledged to change some product recipes, reduce portions in some single-serve packages, quit marketing snacks via giveaways at schools, and encourage healthier lifestyles.
"When we spoke with consumers about what they wanted with single-serve, what they told us was that they didn't want us to reduce the size because they wanted to have more choice," Kraft spokeswoman Kris Charles said yesterday. "Different people have different body sizes and activity levels, and it made more sense to provide different portion choices."

Kraft said is still planning to offer a broad range of portion-size choices, including snacks in small packages, such as its new Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs. It also will give nutrition information for entire packages, rather than just for individual portions, to make it easier for consumers to make nutritional decisions.
That move, Kraft said, should support the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recent call for food companies to enhance labeling on packages in a way that helps consumers make informed decisions.
Kraft has also reduced the fat content and made other changes to about 200 products it sells in North America, accounting for about 5 percent of its products.
Date; May 2004

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A Beer Brews in Brooklyn
Legendary Rheingold Beer, a New York-area icon brand, will once again be brewed in its hometown of Brooklyn, according to news reports.
New York-based Rheingold Brewing Co. has teamed up with Greenpoint Beer Works, which will produce from 1,000 to 2,000 barrels of Rheingold at its Waverly Ave. brewery.
The beer is expected to be sold initially in local bars and restaurants. Rheingold was established in 1850 and soon became a New York favorite. For almost 30 years Rheingold was the most requested beer in the New York area. In addition to Brooklyn, the company operated breweries in Orange, N.J. and other locations, but in the 1960s it began to lose sales and market share to Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and other larger companies. The company filed for bankruptcy and shut down in 1976.
In 1999, Walter "Terry" Liebman, a descendant of Rheingold's founding family, re-established the brand. The bulk of the company's product is being produced at an upstate contract brewery.
Date; May 2004

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