Untangling The Web

Cybermalls

Even shopping malls have gone online. These "virtual" marketplaces consist of individual Web sites linked under a general site--the "cybermall," which is run much like the mall in your neighborhood. Basically, there are two types of cybermalls: vertical, which consists of "cyber-stores" selling the same type of product (for example, some malls have sites that sell only arts-and-crafts products), and horizontal, where the bookstore might be next to the jewelry store. Mall owners charge the "store" rent--usually a flat fee, though some malls take a percentage of the stores' sales. Rent varies from mall to mall, depending on the services provided and, occasionally, on the amount of traffic the mall generates. While some malls welcome the neophyte and will design a Web site for you, others require that you build your own, or that you already have one in existence.

How does a cybermall work? Shoppers enter Mallpark (http://www.mallpark.com), a cybermall containing 54 separate malls, via a welcoming home page. Using a link, an icon or text which sends you to a new URL (unique resource locator--an address for a specific page on the Internet), the home page refers the shoppers to a mall directory, which is divided by topics such as "Art & Music" or "Books & Magazines." Shoppers then click on the "stores" they'd like to visit--such as the Glass Artistry Studio (http://members.aol.com/gjbow/StainedGlass.html) based in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, where Chris Barber sells stained-glass boxes constructed with antique glass jewelry. Via e-mail (barber@ecr knox.com), Internet surfers may purchase several types of boxes, ranging in price from $28 to $44, or request Barber's catalog.

To start a business in The Branch Mall http://branch.com/ for instance, interested parties either e-mail (nan@branch.com), fax (313-995-1931), or call the organization (800-349-1747). A mall representative will discuss with the potential virtual-store owner what their Internet goals will be, ideas they may have about the Web site, and the options and services that are offered. Basic pricing for The Branch Mall costs about $960 for one page for one year. (A page is measured by the amount of text that will fit on an 81/2 by 11 page, using a 12-point or larger font.) The Branch Mall gives clients with their own Web pages a discount.

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Untangling The Web.

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