Learning from the Dot-Bombs

July 1st, 2002


Originally published in Unlimited

Remember 20th century e-commerce? Perhaps you’d rather forget. The days when people threw money at any e-business idea that sounded vaguely plausible are long gone, but they shouldn’t be forgotten. Some of those famously ill-fated ideas had merit, but the execution let them down.

What would have happened to New Zealand’s dot-bombs if their websites hadn’t been so bloated and cost so much? Would flyingpig.co.nz still be flying if it hadn’t handicapped itself with six-figure software licensing costs each month? What if the pink pig had known that “open source”-based e-commerce solutions offered comparable or better functionality — minus the price?

What if its site hadn’t been so painfully slow? The Pig was always going to struggle to stay airborne when its web pages averaged a weighty 120KB. Who has the time — or patience — to sit for 20 seconds a page while content loads?

Similar questions could be asked of CDstar and Firetruck. Did these dot-bombs flame out because their business model was flawed, or did the technology, fulfilment and customer service details get them in the end? We may never know. But we do know there are a number of successful online businesses that are now making impressive profits (see “Pigs might fly“, June). They’ve learned a lot about online fulfilment from the failures of their dot-bomb cousins. Take heed:

Sound design: Sites should have intuitive navigation and usable site architecture, as well as an appealing look and feel. An experienced web design company is more likely to have the skills necessary to deliver on this promise. Flyingpig.co.nz was developed by a company with little experience creating an e-commerce site, and sadly it showed.

Lightweight pages: Optimise images for small file size and fast download, strip out extraneous HTML and remove unnecessary graphics.

Server support: You need 24-hour server support to effectively manage traffic surges. The marketing fanfare that announced FlyingPig’s launch was undermined by the fact that the site was down within minutes of going live.

Software costs: Don’t waste budget on unnecessarily expensive software licences when an open-source solution exists. Open source offers a highly customisable, stable and low- or no-cost alternative to proprietary software.

Research: Study how your customers use your website and learn what frustrates them. Analyse your visitor’s traffic patterns, invite customers to complete a survey after they purchase and have informal brainstorming sessions with your most valuable customers.

Service: Service your customers like your survival depends on it, because it probably does. One thing that sets the survivors of the tech downturn apart is customer service: good e-businesses reply to email within hours.

Deliver: Keep your commitments to your customers. Remember the old adage: “under-promise and over-deliver”? Make it your mantra. If your site promises delivery in three days, that doesn’t mean five or 10. The more you fail to deliver the goods on time, the less people order from you, as FlyingPig discovered.

Stephan Spencer is founder/president of Netconcepts, a Madison, WI-based Web marketing agency that offers search optimization services.

This article appeared in the July 2002 issue of Unlimited magazine.