Just a couple of decades ago, the Internet was a nascent platform used primarily to serve up the AOL joke of the week each Monday morning. Across America, anxious onlookers would wait and watch as their dial-up modems chugged and bleeped and spurted until a two-line, not-so-funny joke crawled its way across the screen. Needless to say, we've come a long way: The Internet has become an indispensable part of business, and online humor is now much funnier.
Just how dramatic is the evolution of the Internet? It has radically altered the way we communicate, innovate, create, express, buy, sell, invest, research, date--just about every human behavior and activity has an online counterpart.
We now have instant access to knowledge, intelligence and transactions. Never in history has consumers and brands commingled as closely as they do now. Brands are built, destroyed, altered and restored online. The democratization of branding is both engaging and terrifying.
As with all seismic shifts in business, the evolution of the Internet has ushered in new opportunities and categories of entrepreneurs. Reinvention of traditional business models, such as luxury retail, is exploding--especially luxury discount. While second-quarter brick-and-mortar luxury and department stores burped out a measly 4.5 percent increase in sales over the year before, online discount retail sales have skyrocketed. HauteLook, this month's Innovator (see Booth Moore's story), watched its sales soar a staggering 275 percent this year. Private sample-sale sites, as the niche is known, account for $1 billion in sales and are expected to continue that trajectory, reaching $8 billion over the next five years. And VC cash is flowing into the sector to the tune of $112 million in just six months.
The success of these sites is due largely to the niche's ability to play into the designer psyche of champagne fashionistas on a beer budget. Discount is key. But an air of exclusivity and private membership plays into the "intent-based shopping" mentality, too, as HauteLook founder Adam Bernhard describes it.
And this year's Young Millionaires have all made their fortunes online. From SEO to food to fashion, the Internet has proved fertile ground for their unique take on their respective business sectors.
Even if your business isn't web-only, online is still one of the most important parts of your strategy. The effect of the Internet on business is historic. Its lack of boundaries makes it an attractive opportunity for entrepreneurs who don't like to stick to boundaries anyway--and who are always prone to breaking the rules.
Amy C. Cosper
Follow me on Twitter, @EntMagazineAmy