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More Web Sites That Can Help
Launch Your Hawaii Internet Store

By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay

In the last column we began our series on so-called E-commerce providers—companies that can painlessly allow you to set up your own web site complete with E-commerce capabilities.

If you run a small local business and have considered going online with your own E-commerce site, E-Commerce providers can ease the pain of setting up your own web site.  Essentially they provide you with the tools—often free of charge--to do this.

Though much less expensive than hiring freelance web designers or consultants, E-commerce providers rely on boilerplate solutions that work well with very small, "mom and pop" types of businesses.

This model seemed to be the case with Jeri-Lynn Corbe, a Honolulu based jewelry artist and owner of Jewels of the Isles, a home-based business that sells necklaces, bracelets, and earrings and other items.  She opened her online concern, www.Jewels-of-the-isles.com, this January using web-hosting services of Bigstep.com.  Corbe liked that fact that there was no cost to developing the site and the ease of incorporating e-commerce components such as a merchant account,  shopping carts, visitor reports, and marketing techniques. Despite some technical difficulties, which necessitated her having to directly place her information on the search engines, she told us she was getting traffic and occasional sales.  “It’s starting slowly,” she said, “but business is growing” and she’s “very optimistic about her future as an online merchant."

Another happy online camper is Ryan Vowell, founder of Performance Injection (www.performanceinjection.com) of Haleiwa.  Vowell, who used WebNow.com as a service provider, specializes in souping up cars for the racetrack.  He pays a $25 monthly fee for WebNow’s services, which he says is “well worth it”. Vowell, who has been online with WebNow for about eight months, says he has received about 10,000 visits to his site since its inception.  He told us WebNow is a “perfect way” for a local person to start up a business that is not necessarily dependent on the local economy.  The Haleiwa entrepreneur said he recently had sales of $8000 over a two weeks period and was able to take orders over the Internet. Vowell had encountered a “couple of bugs” but explained that WebNow was helpful in sorting them out. Vowell says, “It’s the cheapest I’ve found online and provides me with room to grow my business.”

The third testimonial comes from Paia, Maui-based Sue Samudio, the webmaster for jukeboxmaui.com, an existing (brick and mortar) store called Jukebox Music & Gifts that decided to go online last September.  Specializing in Hawaiian music and Hawaiiana, Samudio utilized the services of Freemerchant.com, a mainland based company that has received high marks from the computer trade press for its free e-commerce platform designed for small businesses.  Samudio told us she was “very pleased” with the service that Freemerchant.com provides and that it was easy to use for people that had no technical background. Most importantly she said that since going online, the company’s business has improved by 10%.  “Said Sumudio, “the online presence provides an opportunity for our walk in customers to come back to us on the Net if they find something they really like.”

Beware Of The Fine Print Say Local Experts

Despite the good experiences the local merchants we spoke to had with E-Commerce service providers, local experts have some misgivings about these types of companies. Rich Halverson, whose Honolulu-based company, Guide.Net, has its own servers for hosting e-commerce sites, said he was skeptical about the reliability of servers offered for free or very low cost.   “This type of solution is ok for a mom and pop type of operation.  However, if I had a high volume business I don’t know if I would want to be inordinately dependent on a server on the Mainland.  You simply don’t know who is running the show and quality of administrators you’re dealing with.”

Essentially,” said Halverson, “You get what you pay for."   The former UH Professor of Computer Science said that an online business should be extremely particular about choosing a mainland hosting company. The advantage of doing business locally, said Halverson, is that you’re in a position to know who is taking care of your online business. “If there a problems,” he said, “you really have more leverage with a local company.”

For all the benefits—and we think there are plenty, it’s probably a good idea to approach E-Service providers with a small grain of salt.

While many of these companies are heavily marketed now, no one really knows how long they are going to be around.

Mike Meyer, of Wave Internet, an E-commerce consultancy in Honolulu, said that although E-commerce providers offered a good head start for small businesses, the technology had its limitations.  “When your business grows to a point where there is big volume and cash flow you’re definitely going to have to graduate from Bigstep.com or whomever you are using.  Not only is scalability an issue, but if you’re going to compete with another e-commerce company you’re going to have to get serious with your web site and market it professionally.  Good marketing is one thing that a E-Commerce provider will have difficulty offering.”

Robin Tjioe, CEO and founder of Cyberlink Pacifica, a Honolulu-based representative for Zland.com, a mainland, e-commerce business solutions provider, agreed with Mike Meyer's assessment.  "To set up an inexpensive presence on the Net," said Tijoe, a free E-commerce provider such as BigStep and the like makes sense.  However, if you're going to need in-depth marketing and a full-on Internet Strategy you'll have to spend at least $1500 to get some one-on-one help."   Tijoe stated that personalized services were something that free e-commerce providers simply could not offer.

The bottom line:  For a very small business, these free e-commerce providers are the best thing to come along in years.  They are inexpensive, easy to use and enable one to quickly get online. Just remember that they do have limitations and if you’re really serious about e-commerce at some point you’ll have to hire a pro to help you.

Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who works with technology companies in Hawaii and Silicon Valley. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Jeff Bloom is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839-1200. You can read past columns at http://www.cta.net/news/. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Pacific Business News - July 7, 2000

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