The e-commerce sales boom continues, adding items that recently seemed to require touch or feel or otherwise would not work on the World Wide Web. Sales of clothing and furniture on-line sidestep the need to feel the fabric by turning to high resolution imaging of furniture and offering a variety of model shapes and sizes for selection by apparel buyers.
Web grocers even are selling perishables by installing a refrigerator in the customer's garage with drivers using a keypad lock to make deliveries.
Helping drive the surge in new Web products is a sharp increase in the number of women shoppers on-line. In the nine months through April, the total number of on-line shoppers jumped 40 percent to 28 million, but women's numbers rose 80 percent to more than 10 million.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is getting into the act by drafting a voluntary "Code of On-line Business Practices." In the last two years, BBB has awarded more than 3,000 on-line seals to qualifying businesses meeting standards for customer satisfaction and truthful advertising.
LET THE SUN SHINE IN
Daylight substantially boosts store sales. A study for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. shows sales were 40 percent higher in stores with skylights as compared with almost identical stores in the same chains but without skylights.
Wal-Mart has reported skylight sales increases have been seen no matter what merchandise was involved, and in the last year has decided to build all its new stores with more natural light. Target also has been studying the benefits of daylight in energy savings and sales increases.
Natural light not only affects vision, it also provides a biochemical benefit, according to experts.
WHAT WORKED FOR AUTO SALES NOW WORKS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
To grow their businesses by increasing staff, many small businesses are turning to professional employer organizations (PEOs) to "lease" workers rather than hire them.
Through a PEO, small businesses outsource many of their human-resources functions like payroll, employee benefits, regulatory compliance, tax collection and payment, and workers compensation. The PEO refers to its relationship with its client as co-employers.
The PEO industry now numbers 2,000 and is growing at a rate of 20 to 30 percent a year with two million to three million employees.
Y2K NOT BOTHERING SMALL BUSINESSES
Insurers fear their bill will be $15 billion to $35 billion for claims and legal costs related to Y2K computer problems. But small businesses don't seem to be worried. Over half the small firms have not even checked to see if their systems are vulnerable to the bug, which will bite in just a few more months. International Data Corp. reports only 28 percent of companies with fewer than five employees have reviewed their systems for Y2K compliance.
Further evidence of this wake-me-when-it's-over philosophy is seen in the failure of a Small Business Administration lending program for small businesses to make their software and hardware compliant. Only $1.4 million of the $500 million set aside for the program was applied for in the first two months.
NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR
For the first time, domestic U.S. advertising expenditures this year will surpass the rest of the world's combined. But if you think that's a lot, wait until next year! Right on the heels of this year's robust increases in advertising outlays, next year's paid messages will total $230 billion, as forecast by McCann-Erikson Advertising. That's a gain of eight percent. Most of the increase will be in broadcast media-radio, cable and network TV.