All Aboard!

Are You Cut Out For It?

How can you tell whether e-commerce is for you? Don't be intimidated by terms like HTML, cgi bins, Java scripts, secure servers and browser compatibility--your ability to get in on the Internet explosion has less to do with your technical expertise than with your basic entrepreneurial skills.

"E-commerce is more business-oriented," Ellis says. "The technology is just an enablement. After all the business ideas have been put together, the technologists come in and say how we can implement these ideas. So the business piece is much greater than the actual technology piece."

In fact, Ellis believes knowledge in sales and marketing is the key to Internet success."E-commerce is not just setting up the site, understanding the software and hosting it. It's about getting the word out that you have these products online, and getting those products to the consumer in a timely manner."

The Thompsons took a low-key, but effective, approach to marketing. "We run a couple of ads in the back of Motorcyclist and Cycle World to solicit inventory," says Thompson. "I don't do any advertising to sell--it's all through search engines. I have the site listed in Yahoo!, and the others pick it up automatically."

The couple's secret weapon is actually one of the most effective customer-retention tools available online: an e-mail list. "We signed up with one of those mailing list services where customers can go to my site and put their name on the list. Once a week we prepare a catalog of all the new items, shoot the new e-mail out and a third of the new stuff sells within 24 hours."

You'll find no dearth of resources when you begin your venture into the basics of e-commerce. A keyword search for "e-commerce" on Amazon.com results in 323 returns. Internet.com's E-commerce Guide (http://www.e-commerce-guide.com) includes news, a tech advisor and a library. The Web Marketing Info Center (http://www.wilsonweb.com/webmarket) has a link to "Introductory Articles" to help get you started. "Just buy a computer and get with it," Thompson recommends.

Research firm IDC offers plenty of reasons to follow his advice. In a 1999 report, it found that Internet commerce will grow to over $1.3 trillion, with more than 502 million online consumers, by 2003--up from just 142 million users in 1998.

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This article was originally published in the February 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: All Aboard!.

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