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Tapping into Technology


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Pool & Spa News  - November 24, 1999

Tapping into Technology
By Margi Millunzi

Customers want convenience - the kind retailers can offer by taking advantage of the latest in retailing technologies.

From web sites and in-store kiosks to point of sale software, these technological tools are allowing retailers to keep up with their customers, who may be as comfortable with a computer mouse as with a pen or pencil.  Internet retailing, for example, may be a waking giant.

Four years ago, e-commerce totaled about $220 million, about 0.01 percent of the nation's $2.2 trillion in total retail sales, according to the Direct Marketing Association in New York City.  Today, Institute for the Future, a Menlo Park, California based demographic research firm, estimates that Internet sales will top $ 6.6 billion in 2000 and could account for 24 percent of all retail sales by 2010.

Typically at the urging of manufacturers (and often with their help), more and more pool and spa based retailers have created information based web sites designed to share product information and generate leads. 

Only a small percentage of these retailers use these sites to generate sales.  But this will likely grow.

"We know that approximately 75 percent of pool owners have computers," says Dan Harrison, president of Poolandspa.com, an internet site that sells pool and spa products.  "Ninety percent of them say they'll buy over the Internet - that's a tremendous market."

"Most of the success we're seeing now is because we're able to reach out and grasp a national audience without having to take out a $20,000 ad," he says.  This would be a necessity to get attention if his Moriches, N.Y. based business was a "real" store.

Instead, the Poolandspa.com web site's product selection and information resources have helped Harrison generate revenues of $2 million in just the first half of this year - up from $1 million for all of 1998.

Buying over the Internet has had both positive and negative effects on customers, Harrison says.

"On a positive note, customers come to the table knowing more about the products," he says.   "However, because of the speed of the Internet, people expect to receive their products much quicker now.  When they order products, they want them in immediately.   We do stock many things, but a lot of stuff won't materialize that quickly."

Even in the perceived impersonal world of Internet retailing, customer interaction remains a necessity, sources say.

"That is a mistake a lot of Internet companies, in general, make," Harrison says.  "While some say it's a faceless business, I prefer to offer personal service.  We will send out direct mail and newsletters to let them know what we have to offer.  We will answer every email we get, so that they know that we are there for them !"

With increased professionalism at the forefront, retailers in the pool and spa industry should be well positioned for the future.