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Cyberstorefronts For Rookies

Enterprise -- People


Setting up shop in cyberspace is easier than ever, thanks to a crop of new services that help merchants build Web storefronts quickly--without much computer knowhow.

Until now, cyber- merchants with a do-it-yourself bent could teach themselves hypertext markup language (HTML), the code that's used to design Web pages. Or they might buy expensive and often hard-to-use software or hire Web design firms to build their pages for a small fortune.

HE DID IT. Early last year, Mark Kowalski, a Columbus, Ohio, chiropractor who sells bodybuilding dietary supplements over the Web, struggled for about a month to put up his own site using an HTML product called Hot Dog Pro. "I'm not real good with HTML text," he says. Eventually he succeeded. Last summer, Kowalski set up a second site--but in just two days--using Cambridge (Mass.)-based Viaweb. By joining Viaweb's Viamall (a collection of electronic stores), he found himself alongside such retailers as New York-based gourmet-food purveyor Dean & DeLuca.

Prospective Net retailers can contact Viaweb and its competitors, including America Online Inc. and Outreach Communications Corp. of Austin, Tex., directly online. Typically, these companies provide software, which is either downloaded to one's own computer or accessed directly online, that walks the merchant through a series of simple prompts. Users are invited to supply product names and prices and can create various categories of their products. They can select from an assortment of colors and fonts, ending up with

a respectable-looking set of Web pages complete with product information and order forms. "It's not like the custom-developed $100,000 Web site that an artist could put together for you," concedes Outreach's Chief Executive Officer Riss Estes. Still, the merchant can scan in corporate logos and product pictures to jazz up the site.

MALLS. The storefront can be launched as a stand-alone Web site or housed in a cybermall, receiving secure credit card orders and tracking sales and site visits. The price of the services can vary widely.

Challenging the instant-storefront builders are pricier new providers such as AlphaGraphics Inc. in Tucson, which offers cyber- rookies more hand-holding and customized design services at its chain of corner print shops. But whether retailers opt for instant setup or custom design, they must still get shoppers to surf and spend. Kowalski devotes 30 to 40 hours a week to running his online business. Fancy technology doesn't change a basic tenet of retailing: Somebody's got to mind the store.By Mark Halper in San FranciscoReturn to top


Setting Up Shop

WWW.VIAWEB.COM Viaweb offers online, point-and-click instant store-building. All-inclusive monthly fees are $100 for up to 100 items sold; $300 for up to 1,000; $300 for each additional 1,000. 888 484-2932

WWW.OUTREACH.COM Outreach Communications lets you download store-building software for a one-time fee of $3,495. Optional hosting is $100/month. Transactions are 1%ofsales.888280-9999

WWW.ALPHAGRAPHICS.COM AlphaGraphics, with 250 stores in the U.S., will design and host an online store. Setup costs include a $250 consultation and $150/page. Monthly rates start at $150, but piecemeal fees could exceed $300. 800 955-6246

AMERICA ONLINE AOL members pay $149 to set up a storefront (Keyword:primehost). Nonmembers pay $249 at Hosting runs $199 monthly. Transactions add a $50 monthly fee, plus a $300 setup charge. 888 265-1111Return to top

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