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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 5, 2000. All rights reserved.

Re-commerce: B to B to C

E-commerce is yesterday, says Michael Thompson,

CEO of eosk.com. In the next decade, he believes everyone will move

past the "B to B" concept to what he calls "B to B to

C," or business to business to consumer. Thompson calls this "Re-commerce,"

and he wants to re-position both traditional bricks and mortar stores

and the new E-commerce sites.

Thompson will speak on "The Merging World of E-commerce" at

a breakfast sponsored by the men’s organization of Princeton United

Methodist Church on Sunday, April 9, at 8 a.m. at the Princeton Theological

Seminary’s private dining room. The breakfast costs $7 and is open

to both men and women by reservation. Call 609-924-2613.

The son of a Cincinnati electrician, Thompson went to Xavier University,

Class of 1982. He and his wife Carmen (both are members of the church

and she is the church’s secretary) live in Princeton and have three

school-aged boys. He had a logo sportswear company, A.G. Silver, which

marketed to college campuses, and founded the new company last year.

The 85-person business is located in Manhattan in the Flatiron building

on Fifth Avenue, and it is heading in the direction of going public.

"I was looking for a way to distribute my own product," says

Thompson, "and felt there was some way beyond the use of the web.

Literally, I was in a building searching for a suite number on a kiosk,

and it dawned on me that I could shop my product on a college campus

on this unit. Then I realized my product was insignificant compared

to the potential of a J.C. Penney or a J. Crew, and I quickly changed

businesses. I totally believe that this will revolutionize the way

people will buy products at retail."

If bookstores can sell coffee, as when the Barnes & Noble bookstore

at MarketFair hosts a Starbucks franchise, bookstores can also sell

shirts and shorts, says Thompson. He plans to put "eosks"

(his term for web-enabled or intranet-equipped kiosks) in Barnes &

Noble stores to sell — not books and music — but clothing.

That’s why he calls it a "B to B to C" business: A traditional

retailer uses a cyberspace business to leverage its brand name and

sell to consumers.

Thompson is well on his way. His firm did the Bloomingdale’s website,

and among his prestigious marketing partners are Vogue magazine and

Barnes & Noble. "One of our key retailers is J. Crew," says

Thompson, "and soon we will announce a major relationship in excess

of 100 major retailers."

Another way to use the "eosk" concept is to place eosks in

a retail store for the purpose of trimming inventory and hence downsizing

space needs. For instance, a men’s clothing department might carry

only a limited selection of sizes in each color and style, but a customer

could use the "eosk" to place an instant order. That could

result in clothing stores following the lead of a hard goods discount

store, where you can touch and feel the sample before you order the

actual item from the back room. In the E-commerce world, your item

might be delivered on the spot — or to your office the next day.

"Every major retailer in the world will have a form of an E-commerce

kiosk and we hope it’s an eosk," says Thompson. "This will

extend their brick and mortar capabilities. Instead of building a

new store, they can reside in our eosk."

Ripe for the plucking, Thompson believes, will be the booming college

market. Students on campuses across the country, no matter how far

removed from "civilization," would be able to shop J. Crew

or Bloomingdale’s on the eosk. To fend off worries about security,

each would have an ATM-like slot for swiping credit cards.

Another retail use would be for the eosk to act as the virtual salesperson,

delivering answers on available stock. Tired women’s shoe shoppers

could find the shoe they liked, and learn whether the store had the

shoe in their size — or whether it could be ordered. All without

needing to hail a clerk.

The difference between eosk.com and an Internet shopping mall is that

the eosk physically resides in a space. "We believe this form

of `re-commercing’ is beyond E-commerce and will `repurpose’ either

real estate or cyberspace," says Thompson. "If you are Macy’s

and are doing a brick and mortar store, we believe there is the integration

opportunity to take it to the next level and make the experience truly

interactive for the shopper. The web enables the consumer."

Competition? MarketSource, the big direct marketing firm on Abeel

Road and Commerce Drive, pioneered in putting physcical kiosks on

college campuses. Along came the Web and it found students didn’t

see a need to interact with the kiosk in the middle of the student

union when they could be on the Web in their room. Now it has virtual

kiosks with video and cable for entertainment, news, and announcements.

Another New Jersey-based firm is putting big-screen kiosks in food

courts at major malls. While consuming your hot dog or pretzel you

can watch movie previews on the big screen or don a headset and interact

with others in the mall community.

"There are many companies putting kiosks inside of their stores,

and there are many forms of kiosks, but I am not aware of anyone taking

an E-commerce kiosk and placing it somewhere not that is not a traditional

source of retail," says Thompson. "The key is the combination."

— Barbara Fox


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