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Frank Remarks: Flying Under the Radar

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  1. Death of E-Tailing: Myth or Fact?
  2. Building Your USP: Four P's
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Because the market news is full of details about failed dot-coms, some businesses are leery of e-tailing. But the truth is that many small businesses are conducting e-commerce quite successfully, thank you - they're just flying low enough not to be lit up by the CNN spotlight.
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Being an Italian male, I love to cook. Yes, the remote control is an important life accessory to me, but so is my Teflon-coated 15 x 10 Presto fry pan. So, when one of the plastic legs broke off a while ago—due to the mishandling of my gourmet instrument by someone in my household who will remain nameless—I was faced with the dreary prospect of finding a replacement part for an American appliance.

I could forget about the retail store I bought it from; they were all too willing to sell me a replacement frying pan instead of a replacement part. So I turned to the web. And sure enough, after entering replacement appliance parts in my favorite search engine, I was presented with Mar-Beck. Mar-Beck sells nothing but replacement parts for household appliances—a very narrow niche for an e-tailer.

Using the search window on their home page, I quickly found the plastic leg I needed for my Presto fry pan, clicked the Buy button, and it found its way to my kitchen counter within a few days.

Death of E-Tailing: Myth or Fact?

I'm telling you this little story as an example of what succeeds in e-commerce on the Net. I've found that the most successful e-tailers are not necessarily the biggest or the most well-funded. Just look at the recent dot-bomb implosion. Some surveys say that more than 600 pure dot-coms have crashed and burned over the last 18 months. Does that mean that you can't make it in e-commerce anymore? That the bubble has burst? And that there are few if any viable e-tail models?

On the contrary, e-tailers are alive and well on the Net. Most of them are hard to see because they fly under the radar of the Internet analysts and e-commerce commentators. Many of them, being small mom-and-pop shops, don't post annual earnings in the hundreds of millions or even millions of dollars.

How do I know this? What crystal ball have I gazed into that gives me this particular piece of knowledge? Simple—I checked my web site.

Being the Online Shopping guide for About.com gives me a unique view into the workings of e-tailing on the web. You see, in addition to writing a weekly commentary on how to shop on the Net, I also maintain hundreds of links directing my readers to where to shop online. I've accumulated these links to shopping sites over the last five years, and every few months I review them looking for dead links—that is, e-tailers that have gone out of business on the web.

The results of my reviews are very interesting. The vast majority of the e-tailers that have been sent to the dot-com trash heap have been the large pure-play dot.coms, along with many of the multi-level marketing companies and individuals selling their own health or nutrition products.

The ones that have remained on my list over the years have one characteristic in common. They were successful in creating a unique selling position (USP) and communicating that USP to shoppers.

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