One way many small companies target online customers is by parking their Web sites in online malls. These shops, generally organized by category, are plentiful. In fact, there are dozens to choose from, including The Internet Mall (http://www.internetmall.com), Choice Mall (http://www.choicemall.com), iMall (http://www.imall.com) and Internet Plaza (http://www.internet-plaza.net). Some malls are geared to a specific region of the country or to a type of product. A listing can cost up to $250 per month.
While these sites seem innocent enough, they've been shrouded in controversy lately because of the sometimes-shifty ways the site companies use seminar programs to promise consumers the chance to earn money by participating in their virtual shopping malls. These selling techniques caused the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and law enforcement officials in 27 states to begin cracking down on these online malls. Provo, Utah's iMall Inc., for example, is being investigated by the FTC because of questionable practices. An angry group of sales representatives who sell space on the mall also posted a Web site recently that's filled with complaints about the high prices they paid to become franchisees--with hardly any return.
While not all virtual malls are alike, it's important to keep the hazards in mind and check to see if unscrupulous practices are apparent before signing up to be on a virtual mall. Remember: It's best to shop around for all available options and check references before signing up.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.