Woot rolls out new online retail model

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Woot sells just one consumer-electronics product every day. The items go on sale at midnight Central time and when they're gone, they're gone. But in just one month of existence, Woot has already become a check-in-daily site for more than 25,000 Web surfers, especially tech bloggers and bargain seekers.

A kind of Russian roulette of consumer-electronics sales, Woot is an independent company spun out of Synapse Micro, a consumer-electronics distributor based in Dallas that sells loss leaders, opportunity buys and other similar products to brick-and-mortar stores, online retailers and mass merchandisers.

Matt Rutledge, founder of both Synapse and Woot, said the idea began over beers with Synapse employees discussing the availability of the Woot.com address. The word Woot comes from gaming slang-the original use meant "Wow! loot" in Dungeons and Dragons play-and is now a common exclamation of excitement in Net culture.

gamble on a brand

Once Synapse purchased the Web address, it spent a year developing and honing its strategy. Going against the latest Web sales convention, that is, open a shop on eBay or Amazon, Mr. Rutledge and his Woot cohorts decided to gamble and build an actual brand.

"We saw this as the right way to do buzz marketing," he said. "There's a value here in actively building that community of consumers, the blogging community and our core demographic," he said.

In fact, the model bears little resemblance to most Web retail models, which use the unrestricted "floor" space of the Web to hawk a voluminous variety of product. Actually, the model it follows is a much older, proven sales and marketing success: TV home shopping channels.

Woot also uses attitude as part of the gimmick. For instance, under frequently asked questions, comments like "We anticipate profitability by 2043" are sprinkled throughout the answer section. Even its Google-sponsored link reeks of cheek: "an annoying one-item store that you may visit every day."

Blogs, both tech ones like engadget.com and bargain-shopping ones like fatwallet.com, have helped build quick and steady buzz. Woot has 10,000 registered users and expects to have around 100,000 going into the fourth quarter, Mr. Rutledge said.

Formal advertising for now will likely be limited to online advertising. The majority of Woot marketing will be with partners, such as forums and blogging communities. The company is in final discussions with an unnamed network of blogs to provide a five-minute text preview of the next Woot product of the day at 11:55 p.m. daily beginning this month.

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