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Desktop to doorstep
By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology Editor
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2000
In fact, many Tampa Bay area businesses would prefer to reach customers only in the area, said Camp, owner of Net Practitioners, a Web site development company in Palm Harbor.
So she created tampabayfreebies.com, a site where local businesses can post coupons to attract local customers to their stores or offices.
Her fledgling site is just one of the techniques evolving to bring e-commerce closer to home. Across the country, some sites are trying to bring shopping from the desktop to the doorstep with same-day delivery for people who want everything from groceries and video rentals to dry cleaning and film developing.
Most such ventures are starting in the nation's biggest and most Internet-savvy metropolitan areas -- New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle -- and haven't yet reached the bay area. But it doesn't mean local businesses can afford to ignore potential Internet competition.
"While stores will perpetually be the primary channel of commerce, the Internet will challenge their current level of dominance, chipping away at their profitability for years to come by eroding margins and stealing sales from the price-sensitive and time-starved," said a report from Jupiter Communications, an Internet market research company.
Online groceries, such as Peapod.com and Netgrocer, were among the first to go after this home market. In 1998, online grocery sales were an estimated $150-million, a number predicted to grow to $3.5-billion by 2002, according to Jupiter. The Tampa Bay area is getting its first taste of such services, with local start-ups Grocerydriver.com (grocerydriver.com) and Internet Home Delivery (internethomedelivery.com), both of which are gearing up in Pinellas County.
The consumer convenience segment is expanding beyond groceries. In a few major cities, sites such as Kozmo.com, Streamline.com, Urbanfetch.com and Webvan are offering to deliver other goods and services.
"People love shopping on the Net, but most sites lack the ability to give them instant gratification," said Yong Kang, president and co-founder of New York-based Kozmo.com, which promises to deliver everything from sandwiches and ice cream to video rentals and magazines. "This fulfills the true promise of e-commerce to be fast and easy."
However, delivery speed is an issue for most sites: Only 7 percent of online retailers offer same-day delivery, according to Jupiter; 43 percent do not offer next-day delivery; and 59 percent that do offer next-day shipping charge $11 or more for the service.
That's one of the advantages local merchants have over e-tailers, according to a consumer survey Jupiter conducted in November:
"The truth is that old habits die hard," the Jupiter report said, "and consumers will continue to leave their homes to conduct the vast majority of transactions."
Tampabayfreebies.com wants to build on that strength, said Camp of Net Practitioners. It's different from past attempts by others to highlight businesses on the Web, from online shopping malls to portals. Any business on the Suncoast can post, she says.
Businesses can post coupons for free. "We're not looking to make our millions off Tampa Bay Freebies," said Camp, who hopes the site eventually gets enough visitors to attract advertisers.
Consumers print out the coupons and present them to the merchants. No membership or registration is required.
"We don't think the average user wants to give up every detail of their life just to get something," said Camp, who has learned a lot about Web surfers' preferences in her role as a paid computer tutor, one of her company's other services.
Her site offers 33 categories, from antiques to restaurants to pets. But as with many Web start-ups, Camp's site is interesting so far mostly for its potential. Not all categories have listings yet. Click "Bridal" or "Cooking," and you'll get nothing but a note that says, "We're sorry, there are no businesses currently in this category, please check back soon."
Coupons were available recently from Spooner's Sports Grill in Oldsmar for a free burger with the purchase of a burger basket, a free foot-long sub from Subway shops in Palm Harbor and East Lake with the purchase of another sub and a drink and a buy-one-get-one-free ice cream cup or cone from Haagen-Dazs at Countryside Mall and Citrus Park Town Center. But you won't find a coupon yet for a restaurant in, say, St. Petersburg or anywhere in Pasco, Citrus or Hernando counties.
Net Practitioners doesn't screen businesses but will check if it thinks something isn't right about a coupon, such as a blind post office box. Camp wants to set up forums for users to post comments about the businesses, just as some auction sites let users rate sellers.
Camp says it's too early to gauge results. She plans a marketing campaign to promote the site, including signs that participating businesses can show in their stores. Eventually, she wants to add short articles or reviews to profile businesses.
For now, she has to sell the concept.
"The thing we are battling," Camp said, "is the skepticism that is part and parcel of the Internet that there is a catch somewhere. We're really looking into some of promotion that's going to key in on the fact that there really is such a thing as "free' and "free' means free."
-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.
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