Recently, Raymond Fazzi, a award winning reporter for the Asbury Park Press and the Home News/Tribune (Part of the Ganettt newspaper network) interviewed experts in the field of Internet commerce. Below is that article. You can find Gannett's site at http://www.injersey.com. The Asbury Park Press has one of the largest circulations in the country. Raymond Fazzi is one of the reasons for that circulation.
Netting profits on the Web
Published in the Asbury Park Press and the Home News Tribune 3/02/98
When it comes to running a home-based business on a shoestring budget, there are limits to how far sales can go.
But since he's plugged his business into the Internet, Scott Neuman feels that limit may be the sky itself.
"The Internet affords you the opportunity to do business with anyone on the planet instead of within a 10-mile radius," the Manchester Township resident said. "I think any personal business can do well on the Internet."
Neuman has been buying and selling used LP records for 20 years under the name Forever Vinyl. Since he created a World Wide Web site on the Internet three years ago, his sales have increased five-fold.
Formerly a business that relied on word-of-mouth and advertisements in several music magazines, Neuman now distributes his catalog of 500,000 LPs on a computer network with access to about 40 million computer users.
Now, instead of just dealing with customers in the New Jersey area, he's selling records to people who live in places such as Greece, Singapore and Australia.
All of his businesses operations, he said, are conducted with an overhead of $30 per month.
Neuman, who has a full-time job at a car dealership, wouldn't disclose the revenue from his record business. But he feels Forever Vinyl has the potential to someday be a full-time undertaking.
"It helps pay the bills," he said.
Although not yet the proverbial gold mine, the Internet is beginning to show signs of reaching the critical mass of computer users needed for a thriving marketplace, industry experts say.
Zona Research of Redwood City, Calif., estimates that Internet-related products and services will grow into a $100 billion market in 2000 -- up from $35 billion last year.
After several years of posturing, testing and analyzing, experts generally agree the Internet is a viable marketplace for at least some businesses. Among the most notable is the book industry, where Amazon books has arisen as a major player solely on Internet sales the past few years. Egghead Software, a national computer software and hardware retailer, last month announced it was closing its stores to conduct its sales exclusively on the Internet.
Internet sellers of CDs, computer hardware and software, flowers and gift items are also reportedly doing well. Many corporations use Web sites as key components of their marketing campaigns.
Now one of the questions being tossed about in Internet circles is: Can the average home computer user make a buck off the Internet?
Some say the potential is there, if the benefits of Internet commerce are properly exploited. One of the selling points of the Internet, for example, is that it lets consumers shop when and where they want, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some sites also allow consumers to make credit-card purchases online, but there's some debate about whether enough people feel comfortable with transmitting their credit-card numbers over the network. On many business Web sites, customers can only make a purchase by calling a telephone number listed on the site.
Among the other perceived benefits of Internet advertising is the ability to display more information than would be possible in a newspaper ad or a company brochure.
"You want to make your Web site include something that you can't get anywhere else," said Matt Fabricant, president of Arrow Consulting, a Web design and marketing firm in Brick Township.
A Web merchant is novel right off the bat because of the around-the-clock shopping opportunities it provides customers, he said.
"People can go in and shop around without a salesman chewing on them," he said.
Whether it be a home business or a major corporation, a company undertaking the construction of a Web site needs to follow some basic rules, experts say.
Keep things simple. Web designers sometimes have a tendency to overdo a site with graphics, information and even sound. Besides overwhelming the viewer, such features also increase the time it takes for a site to load itself into someone's computer. If the wait is too long, customers may scoot off to another site. Simplicity also makes it easier to convey a message, experts say.
Find a reliable host computer. To run a Web site, one needs to store it in a server that is tied into the Internet. The server essentially acts as the gateway that gives the Internet's millions of users access to the Web site. Fees for placing a Web site on a server can run anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars per month. Prices can depend on the amount of memory the site takes up, the amount of Internet traffic it generates and whether the firm hosting the site also is involved in its design and maintenance.
Make your site interactive and informative. A good place to start, experts said, is a thorough product catalog, which includes price, product description and, if possible, photographs of the products. Some sites go beyond this. Many computer companies, for example, have Web sites where customers can configure a computer with the components they desire, press a button to get the resulting price, and then order the computer -- all without having to deal with a salesperson.
Fabricant said a business shouldn't expect to generate many sales by simply putting a one-page ad on the Internet. "If you use a bad business brochure, it's going to be a bad Web site," he said.
Register your own domain name. To get to a Web site, computer users need to have an address to type into their Web browser. (A browser is the software program that enables computer users to navigate the Internet. The two most popular browsers are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.)
If a business places its Web site on another firm's server, the address of the business's Web site would be a series of codes -- usually the address of the host computer followed by extensions for the site being visited. Such an address would look something like this: www.server.com/pub/business/index.html.
For $50 per year, however, a business can register its own domain name as long as the particular name is not already in use. In the case of Forever Vinyl, for example, Neuman registered his company as a domain name. That means his Web address is simply www.forevervinyl.com.
"It's obviously much easier for people to remember your address if you have your own domain name," said Bill Klingenburg, system administrator with Wall Internet, an Internet access firm in Wall Township.
Domain names can be registered online at rs.internic.net. It takes from 24 to 48 hours for a registration to be processed, Klingenburg said.
Get your Web address listed with search engines. Search engines are basically Web sites people use to find other Web sites. Popular search engines include Yahoo!, at www.yahoo.com, and Infoseek, at www.infoseek.com. A computer user typically conducts the search through the use of keywords. Someone shopping for a set of skis, for example, might use the keywords "skis," "winter sports" and "sporting goods" to generate a list of related Web sites. Search engines are considered the primary means of publicizing a Web site address.
People setting up a business Web site also needs to decide if they want to hire someone to create the site or do it themselves.
Neuman of Forever Vinyl decided on the latter alternative when he created his Web site three years ago. The alternative, he said, was to pay a consultant $80 an hour to design the site.
Neuman, who was already a computer hobbyist, spent a week learning how to write HTML, which is a set of rudimentary codes used for designing Web pages. He then set out to create a page that was attractive, yet easy and simple to read.
He decided to include an electronic version of his LP catalog -- a price list of 500,000 LPs that visitors to his Web site can download for free -- and a toll-free number for calling in orders.
The next step, Neuman said, was to register a domain name. Neuman paid $100 up front for the first two years of registration of the domain name www.forevervinyl.com.
He found a company in Washington D.C., that charges him $10 per month to host the Web site. He pays another $20 per month for an Internet access account. To get the word out about his site, he registered with a service called Link Exchange, at www.linkexchange.com, which is a cooperative of 20,000 Web sites that exchanges links to one another's sites. Through this service, Neuman said, between 2,000 and 5,000 Web sites display links that computer users can use to automatically be transported to Forever Vinyl.
He also got his Web site listed on every search engine he could find. "That's a key part of the Web site -- I'd say 90 percent of it," he said. Search engines don't charge for these listings.
Now, with the Web site up and running for three years, Neuman said, he may add an online purchase feature to his site, which would allow customers to order LPs with a credit card as they browse the site.
Neuman said he currently gets between 200 and 300 e-mail inquiries a day from visitors to his Web site.
He started a second Web site six months ago called Vinyl Web (www.vinylweb.com), which is an electronic meeting place for vinyl record collectors and dealers where Neuman sells advertising.
Forever Vinyl and Vinyl Web are each being visited by computer users about 10,000 times a day, Neuman said.
"If it continues the way it is, I'll be happy," he said.
Source: Asbury Park Press and the Home News Tribune
Published: March 02, 1998