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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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