Online catalogers unite

Jun 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

Too many Internet surveys lack information catalogers need to make Web-related business decisions. “There really is no place we can go to talk about our online experiences,” says Jill Markus, vice president of business development at CyberShop, a $1 million online department store. “There are no resources that address the unique characteristics such as navigation, advertising, and salaries that we deal with every day in the online environment.”

Faced with this dilemma, executives from 10 online marketers, including CyberShop, Garden Escape, Internet Shopping Network, and GolfWeb, in November 1996 formed shop.org, an association whose mission is to promote online commerce, to provide a meeting place for members, and to become the information resource on Internet shopping. “Commerce on the Internet is so new that we don’t have a history of performance to judge whether we’re doing well or not,” says Robert Smith, president of shop.org and an online industry consultant. “We’re unique in that our singular focus is on the Internet and online shopping.”

The 10 original members used to meet whenever the opportunity arose. But word of mouth attracted so much interest that in November ’97, shop.org regrouped to become a nonprofit organization with a board of directors and dues-paying members. Board members represent such companies as 1-800-Flowers, Virtual Vineyards, Eddie Bauer, Barnesandnoble.com, and CDnow.

Setting standards At press time, shop.org had nearly 75 member companies. Dues are based on annual online sales. Companies that generate up to $2 million in annual online revenue, for instance, pay $1,000 a year to join, while companies that make more than $50 million in online revenue pay $10,000 a year.

The association’s first order of business was to establish the Committee on Internet Shopping Statistics (CISS) and the Committee on Good Business Practices (CGBP). CISS is developing a quarterly survey. All members will receive the full survey results, while the public will receive summarized information.

“This really gives online retailers the opportunity to raise the bar on e-commerce and set a standard for the industry,” says Donna Iucolano, director of interactive services at flower marketer 1-800-Flowers and shop.org’s chairman of shopping statistics. “There’s a lot of information out there that doesn’t report on what we want to track,” such as conversion rates; fulfillment, distribution, and legal issues; and service providers and Website developers.

Equally critical is the reinforcement of good business practices online, especially since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is closely eyeing online business to determine if regulation is needed. Shop.org’s CGBP focuses on adopting effective policy programs such as the Direct Marketing Association’s privacy policy guidelines and on developing its own set of standards for security, customer service, and advertising issues.

Shop.org is also considering producing a trade show this fall. “We believe we can put together an event that will help all consumer commerce companies deal with real issues,” Smith says, “while adding revenue to the organization.”