Cybercrime

OPINION

A Nice, Boring Little E-Business

Flowers and popcorn. This is what it’s come down to for e-commerce. The cheerleaders are waving their pom-poms for a company that sells flowers.

And now popcorn. 1-800-Flowers.com plunked down about US$12 million to buy The Popcorn Factory, which, as the name implies, sells tins of popcorn and candy and the like.

The analysts cooed. Ah, the synergies, they mused. The online gift-giving world is changed forever. And e-commerce has been reduced to penny candy.

Time Travel

At least when e-commerce was young and wobbly, we could dream that selling books and CDs online would be an exciting enough business to sustain a $400 share price for Amazon.com. And after books came the other big dreams. Electronics. Furniture. Cars. Houses.

All great ideas, and just as importantly, all rife with potential. Venture capitalists nodded while startup geeks assured them that if they could get just one-tenth of 1 percent of the market share for furniture, everyone involved would become instantly wealthy.

Of course, getting that one-tenth of a percentage point proved more difficult, more expensive and more lengthy an endeavor than anyone had anticipated. Many dreams withered or died entirely without being realized.

To say the pendulum has swung all the way back from excess to austerity would be accurate at this point. But does it have to continue like this? Just how far can you take flowers and popcorn?

Tried and Untrue

Make no mistake: 1-800-Flowers.com has a nice little business going. It has teetered on the brink of profit for a few quarters now and is growing steadily. Some people are going to make a lot of money on flowers and popcorn. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even take over that personalized teddy bear company to complete a triple play.

After all, the online flower business makes perfect sense. The flower seller doesn’t have to pay the local florist a cut to take your flower order, write it down and phone it in. And the consumer doesn’t have to worry about being caught on the phone by a spouse or boss as he or she orders flowers.

It’s a win-win. And it’s boring-boring.

Strike a Balance

We don’t need to go back to the get-big-quick-or-die-trying days. They weren’t much better. Besides, we know now that even if those dreams are achievable, there is only room at the table for one or two giants to sit and feast.

How about a happy medium, though? Just because we broke a few limbs skydiving, does that mean we have to stay in and wash our hair every night from now on?

Even one-time gambles have safety nets now. Furniture.com is back in business but it relies on brick-and-mortar stores for product and marketing support.

It’s as if the original Furniture.com were a souped-up Harley that someone crashed into a wall. It’s been in the shop for a while. But when it reemerges, the Harley has not only been un-souped, it’s a five-speed bicycle. With a banana seat. And training wheels. Hard to feel the rush when you’re traveling at two miles per hour.

Nice and Easy

Maybe this is part of the recovery process. I suppose that if I survived a plane wreck, I wouldn’t be back in the sky the next day.

Gradually, things will improve. Maybe we’ll ride cautiously along the sidewalk at first, but before long, we’ll be back on the highway, riding with no hands. Operating with no safety net. Dreaming the big dreams as if we don’t know that it’s a long way down if we fail.

In the meantime, pass the popcorn.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.


Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


3 Comments

  • Boring is good. This seems to be the new mantra. As a seasoned e-commerce player I rode this roller coaster from the early days (1994) when telling friends that you were in e-commerce meant getting asked if I thought EDI was here to stay, to the go-go days of 98-98 when I had to listen to VCs complain that I wasn’t spending enough on advertising and marketing.
    So now I just focus on building my boring, fast-growing and proftable e-commerce business.

  • Keith,
    Many things in life are boring, however, I do not believe that popcorn is one of them. Tens of millions of US movie cinema goers would go crazy without popcorn. Holiday gift givers would go insane without the option to send popcorn. Generations of campers have produced lovely popcorn necklaces. Popcorn is not boring, my friend, it is part of the American way of life.
    And I AM not convinced that the service of selling popcorn is boring. Go visit Topsy’s popcorn in Kansas City or head out to the bigtop or a ballgame. Popcorn is fun.
    For Topsys online, go to http://www.topsyspopcorn.com/
    To see other popcorn sites, visit http://www.buy-shop-sell.com/Shopping/Food/Snacks/Popcorn/
    — Bruce

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