INTERACTIVE: TECH MEDIA FLOOD THE ONLINE COMPUTER SHOPPING ARENA: ZIFF, CMP AND IDG LEAD IN THE MARKETPLACE

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The powerhouses of tech media are plunging into Web commerce with shopping sites for computer products.

International Data Group opened WebShopper (www.webshopper.com) on Nov. 30, and CMP Media follows today with a major relaunch of its TechShopper site (www.techshopper.com).

They join the third member of tech media's Big Three, Ziff-Davis, which launched NetBuyer (www.netbuyer.com) in Sept. 1996 as a Web version of Computer Shopper, the dominant magazine for mail-order computer products.

Web tech player CNET, meanwhile, jumped in last week with shopping site Computers.com (www.computers.com).

"It is really a free-for-all," said Tony Amico, an analyst with IDG's International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

WIDE OPEN MARKET

It's also a wide open market: One-third of consumer software and at least 10% of consumer hardware will be sold online within five years, estimated Kate Delhagen, senior analyst with Forrester Research.

The media sites' commerce partners or advertisers are tech resellers and marketers that already have their own Web sites. The media sites count on product reviews and links from their parents' sites to generate traffic and sales.

"We're in the audience-delivery business," said Al DiGuido, exec VP-group publisher of NetBuyer and Computer Shopper.

NetBuyer offers products from 110 vendors that pay an average $2,500 a month for listings, Mr. DiGuido said. He estimated $200 million to $250 million in products have been sold on the site since launch.

Mr. DiGuido said NetBuyer this year will generate more than $10 million in ads and listings; he expects that number to double next year, when the site is expected to become profitable.

Mr. DiGuido contends NetBuyer is too far ahead for others to catch up. "If CMP or CNET or IDG think that they can create a revenue stream in the shopping area on the Net, I think they're going to be mistaken," he said.

DIFFERENTIATING THE SITES

The rivals beg to differ. But rather than trying to replicate NetBuyer's breadth of vendors, each is betting on a segmented approach.

IDG, for example, will list products from four to six major resellers on a slickly packaged site that allows customers to read reviews, search product categories, comparison shop and buy from multiple vendors using one order form. IDG will start with listings from Micro Warehouse, a major PC direct marketer that also works with NetBuyer and Computers.com.

WebShopper Exec VP David Ezequelle is betting a simple interface, pre-screened roster of resellers and emphasis on security and customer service will appeal to business buyers.

WebShopper resellers pay nothing to be listed but give IDG a small cut of revenues. WebShopper also sells "point of sale" ads to manufacturers. A manufacturer, for example, may display products in a "showroom" for $13,000 to $16,000 a month.

Mr. Ezequelle said IDG has invested more than $2 million in WebShopper; he forecast more than $100 million in product sales by the end of its second year.

HIGH TECH TO HOUSEHOLD TECH

CMP, meanwhile, is relaunching year-old TechShopper as a consumer and business shopping site. "It should be just as appropriate for someone looking for a network hub or router as someone looking for a $1,000 PC," said TechShopper Senior Producer Greg Schwartz.

TechShopper initially will offer three shopping services in partnership with key Web sites: software, through Software.net; tech classifieds, through Classifieds2000; and a business products auction site, through FairMarket.

Like IDG's WebShopper, the CMP site will take a small cut of product revenues and emphasize security and ease of use. Advertisers may buy TechShopper banner ads as part of a package including more than a dozen CMP sites.

CNET rounds out the four commerce sites with Computers.com, which provides product reviews and links to -- and leads for -- 13 resellers including Micro Warehouse and CompUSA. Initial advertisers on the site include Compaq Computer

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