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No Pain, All Gain

Still don't have a Web site? That doesn't mean you can't join the digital economy.

If you want an easy way to market to Internet customers but have neither the energy to put up a do-
it-yourself electronic storefront nor the cash to pay consultants, all hope isn't lost: New Web-based marketplaces are cropping up with the aim of serving as a meeting ground for small businesses and consumers. Used wisely, these low-cost services may be the vehicle you need to get your products onto the information superhighway.

How do such services work? One example,, which is funded in part by onetime Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale, is a site where customers can name their own prices for items in more than 3,000 categories. The process is simple: A buyer logs on, expresses interest in a product and names the price he or she wants to pay. As customer requests come in, they're distributed through to participating entrepreneurs, who can then decide whether to respond, ignore or counter-offer.

For now, monthly fees for merchants range between $10 and $20. Business owners won't be expected to pay additional fees per lead or commissions on sales. "Even if you don't have your own Web site, this service lets you sell online," says Will Clemens, CEO of, who explains that merchants need only an e-mail account to participate.

One variation on this model is, where, according to the company, the cost of responding to a lead is nominal and sellers currently pay no fees. Get in on this while you can though-they may start charging soon.

A third option is's zShops, where, for modest monthly fees, a small business can put many items up for sale. The listing fee ranges from $0.25 to $2.00 per item.

Which will suit your needs best? Check 'em all out-each model has it's particular strong points and they're all still evolving.

To contact Robert McGarvey e-mail him at

This story appears in the April 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »