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BBS Catalogs

BBS catalogs are used mostly by businesses to sell to other businesses. Although online catalogs have succeeded on I&E networks because all the promotional support was supplied by the network, with a BBS, you're on your own.

The business and computer store of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, has The Book BBS, which offers information on computers and features an online catalog of 2000 computer books. JDR Microdevices of San Jose, California, has a BBS which offers information and an online computer hardware catalog. One Point, a California company, also has a BBS catalog of computer items. Computerland has connected its largest business customers to its own online catalog so that they can get instant price quotes and place orders for their computer, peripheral, and software needs from their own offices_a considerable advantage for Computerland over some of its biggest competitors.

There are many other online catalogs in other fields such as Multimedia Software, Mount Airy, Michigan, which offers the MusicNet BBS with a CD catalog, music news, music files, and Top 40 listings.


Buying Online Catalog Software

The major BBS, Galacticomm, sells the hardware to start a BBS for several thousand dollars and the software for under $100. Look in the Help Source Guide at the end of this chapter for more information.

The Shopping Mall edition software of the Major BBS automates online entry, catalog sales, and credit card-based purchases of products. It can be modified to your product line, pricing policy, discount schedule, and shipping methods. Users can search by product category, browse catalogs, place and cancel orders at will. The Shopping Mall Edition can calculate the exact shipping costs. There's even a built-in credit card number validation routine.

You don't even need "host" BBS equipment to start if you use a public network such as SprintMail. You will still need a program for your catalog, demo, or interactive service, but you can simply start by sending your catalogs on disk to your customers.

Some online catalogs are huge. The biggest sales volume online catalogs use private EDI networks with the most advanced programs and equipment. The Ingraham Book Company and Baker & Taylor (both book jobbers) have very big book catalogs online with sophisticated software that allows them to process orders and deliver books anywhere in the United States within 48 hours. Among other large online catalogs are a seller of used computers and two coin companies who have online catalogs via satellite.

The Genuine Parts Company sells over $2 billion worth of auto parts to over 6000 dealers and distributors. Most are connected by computer to one of the company's 64 NAPA distribution warehouses. Every time a jobber sells an item, the sale is logged on a computer at the warehouse. The computer updates a list of parts to be delivered the next day to replenish the jobber's stock. Mechanics often use laptop computers to order parts electronically without leaving their service bays.

Some catalogs have many capabilities. Camfour, of Westfield, Massachusetts, is a national distributor of firearms and related products. The first year Camfour offered its online catalog, one-fifth of Camfour's customers used it. Now, virtually all its business is transacted via online catalog. More than 6000 items, including all existing inventory, are listed and updated daily. Using PCs, dealers can access up-to-date pricing, product availability, sales promotions, and serial numbers at the time of placing the order.

With its online catalog order system in place, Camfour's 1200 customers dropped to 300 but sales volume increased. More important, Camfour needs only one-third the people to handle its online sales compared to its competitors. Vice President Russell Kanzinger explains:

We spent a fortune for software, created internally by three programmers. It is very efficient and easy to use. The big savings is in time. There is more flexibility and more accuracy. We did have five full-time sales persons. We replaced three of them with one telemarketer and the online catalog.

We give every customer an IBM-compatible PC if they order a minimum volume. We look for customers who pay their bills and give us few problems. We stick with just these people. We first achieved the same volume with one-quarter of the accounts and far more accountability. Then we doubled the volume with no more personnel than before and greater profitability.

We deal in serialized inventory. By law, a bound book must be kept by each dealer, recording all gun sales. We show onscreen a form the dealer's computer can print out requesting a government variance to allow the use of computerized records. The government grants this upon proper application. The dealer's use of our online catalog for all purchases and control of its inventory automatically keeps the required government records.

Our catalog has many capabilities. For any serialized product, punching the letter A will bring up all accessories on screen. In addition, it presents our entire marketing sales program. It is more effective than a trade magazine. The ads are right there as customers are online and interested.

All serialized sales by the dealer are maintained on computer. We can provide a summary of this information to manufacturers to guide them in production schedules. We have hundreds of screens of specials and promotions. We show graphic pictures and specifications of products in color. The online catalog offers all kinds of promotional opportunities.

A dealer can order via modem from exclusive onscreen offers; 60 percent of dealers respond to special offers. A customer who wants a better deal than the prices and terms onscreen can phone the account's telemarketer, who listens and relays to management competitive information. This adds a personal touch.

As a service to customers, we supply free ads to buy and sell excess inventory from each other. A Utah customer can create an ad on his PC and modem it to our mainframe computer, which puts it in the system, on screen and in color. It's very high-tech.

We send our open account monthly statements via computer. We don't mail. They have our statement on screen. We put a reminder on screen the first three days of the month. If they don't pay by the 5th of the month we stop shipping. Our credit losses are minimal.

The online catalog leads to smaller orders more often. There's no need to maintain large inventories. It's a just-in-time capability. A customer always knows if an item is not in inventory but can backorder.

Here's another question for Ogilvy & Mather Direct's Martin Nisenholtz:

Q: What is the most successful online catalog operation you know where equipment was sold, rented, or given to customers?

MN: Probably Baxter Healthcare, but it depends on how you measure success.

Online catalogs have led to a new phenomenon we'll take up in Chapter 21, online marketplaces.  

Help Source Guide

  1. All I&E networks listed in Chapter 19's Help Source Guide are good sources. Look in their magazines and newsletters for catalogs online. Then access.

  2. C. Bowen and D. Payton's Complete Electronic Bulletin Board Starter Kit (436 pages), Bantam Books, 1988, is very helpful. A proprietor of one bulletin board told me he could not have launched it without this book: 666 5th Ave., NY, NY 10103. (212) 765-6500.

  3. CompuServe's Catalog of Catalogs lists catalogs that can be ordered online. Many can be accessed on CompuServe: 5000 Arlington Centre Blvd., Columbus, OH 43220. (800) 848-8199.

  4. Galacticomm Inc. (Timothy Stryker, CEO) provides a free info kit and a free online demo of the Major BBS and online catalog system. Stryker has invaluable experience and provides great access: 4101 S.W. 47th Ave., Suite 101, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314. (305) 583-5990.

  5. Modem Media (Gerald M. O'Connell, CEO) provides agency services to develop campaigns. Represents online networks and serves as production house, consultant, specialist in online catalogs: 12 S. Main St., Suite 401, South Norwalk, CT 06854. (201) 853-2600.

  6. Teleconnect Marketing, TeleComm USA (TeleConnect), is owned by MCI. Free info kit available re access from anywhere at local rates to your catalog online. 12 W. 21st St., NY, NY 10010. (800) 728-7000.