Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cyber Monday Linkup on E-Commerce

Bricks and Clicks:

The Cyber Monday
Linkup -
in Tacoma

A panel of experienced E-Commerce leaders led an engaging and educational discussion yesterday on e-commerce and how it fits into their local business today.

The Linkup, hosted by the William Factory Small Business Incubator in Tacoma, included both large and small businesses in the South Sound area. Some were doing business both online and offline, others were pure online businesses only. One was literally started in a garage, while others started as extensions of an existing business. The panel also included a local e-commerce developer, consultant and college offering E-Commerce classes.

With online sales growing at record rates, nationally, local business leaders, including both the Tacoma-Pierce Co. Chamber and City of Tacoma, are concerned with how much of that business is happening locally.

Online shoppers in the United States spent $36.3 billion in the third quarter of 2011, up a huge 13.1% from the same period a year ago. This was the eighth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth for e-commerce spending, according to data released this month by ComScore Inc., a provider of global Internet information.

For over two hours, the panel discussed the state of local e-commerce, and brainstormed ideas on how to increase local e-business, e-jobs and e-educational resources in our area. The discussion was appropriately streamed online, and broadcast live by co-sponsor KLAY Talk/News Radio, drawing listeners from throughout the region. A live 'Remote Tweetcast' was also sponsored by the Business Examiner.

The panelists included a broad cross-section of local businesses:
- Retail: The Pacific Northwest Shop – Bill Evans, CEO
- Tools: Carbide Processors - Tom Walz, CEO
- Jewelry: ArtBeads.com – Devin Kimura, CEO
- Books: Thrift Recycling – Phil McMullin, CEO
- Non-profit:­­ World Vision - Kile Rury, E-Commerce Manager
- Software: Skoot / Business Internet Services - Janine Terrano, CEO
- Consulting: Kaufmann Kreative - Bill Kaufmann, CEO
- Education: DeVry University (e-Commerce MBA program) - Bob Bunge

Each participant was invited to discuss their online program today, how they started, challenges they’ve faced, and where they’re going (or hope to go) in the future. Conversation also included operational e-commerce topics such as the cloud, web platforms, development, security, staffing, international sales, online marketing, staffing and shipping challenges.

It was apparent that there are some exciting success stories in the area. Lakewood based Thrift Recycling sells over 5 million books online annually, with a staff of only 2 people locally. Tacoma’s Pacific Northwest Shop generates about 25% of its sales online. ArtBeads.com in Gig Harbor is 100% online, and sells over 27,000 different items – imported from all over the world.

Both challenges and opportunities remain. Tacoma’s Carbide Processors CEO Tom Walz was particularly concerned about the challenges of finding e-Commerce savvy employees locally, and recently recruited two people from out of the area to help manage his operations.

Although the UW Institute of Technology in Tacoma doesn’t offer any courses on e-Commerce, there are programs at PLU and DeVry that may help to start filling the gap. The recent opening of Amazon’s fulfillment center in Spanaway, and the e-Commerce training program at Tacoma Goodwill created by Bill Kaufmann may help provide staffing solutions also.

The growth of local e-Commerce may well be described as a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Without local e-commerce businesses, Tacoma isn’t attracting local e-commerce support. Yet without such “go local” support, e-commerce business in the Tacoma area lags behind the national growth trends.

An exciting go-local economic e-growth opportunity is waiting to happen here in America’s formerly Most Wired City.

Bill Kaufmann, CEO / E-Commerce and Marketing Director,
Kaufmann Kreative E-Commerce & Marketing

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