returns from the grave

Mark Lewis

Last week's announcement of's return from beyond the grave couldn't have been more timely, falling as it did in the week of...

Mark Lewis

Last week's announcement of's return from beyond the grave couldn't have been more timely, falling as it did in the week of spooks, witches, tricks and treats.

Apparently a venture called has bought the name and URL, and re-launched the site as a style portal. It's an interesting move. Here, after all, was a business whose name came to be synonymous with dotcom excess and failure, and one that blew more than $100m in the blinking of an eye.

Apparently, fashionmall hopes to capitalise as much on boo's past infamy as upon any fashion associations it still harbours. Certainly, the re-launched site makes no bones about its dubious past. "Style never dies", it proclaims. "A new ownership and seasoned management team has revived from the ashes of dotcom mayhem".

The move underlines how hard it is to develop a recognisable brand on the Web. A failed brand it may be, but is at least a known online brand - and that makes it a rare and valuable commodity. Any publicity is good publicity, after all.

Bricks-and-mortar businesses with an established market presence and a healthy customer base should be reassured by's eagerness to trade off such a questionable brand. The inevitable slowdown of the Internet gold rush should favour existing brands. When you think of ordering, say, flowers, will names like or spring to mind? No, you'll think "Interflora".

It's important to have a little confidence in your brand. Sure, customers will drift away if you take forever to grow an online limb. But they'll be just as unimpressed by a lacklustre - or, worse still, unsecured - e-presence.

It's easy to believe that yours is the only business in the UK not in the throes of a top-to-toe e-business makeover. Rest assured. Recent figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that only 38% of the top UK retailers are selling goods online.

Research by our sister title E-Business Review produced even more dramatic results. Of the hundreds of UK companies canvassed, only 46% said they were currently involved in or planning any form of e-business. And, while most of these boasted their own Web site, only 2% reported using it for transactions over the Web.

This is no time for ill-conceived, knee-jerk solutions.

Fact: BMW has opted against joining its rivals in the Covisint auto exchange

Fact: fashion retailer Monsoon this week hinted that it might soon strip out the transactional side of its site

Fact: some of the major household names in UK retail, Body Shop and Ikea among them, are still not transacting online. Either they are naive, or they just plain don't feel that the time is right yet.

I've been conducting a straw poll over the past few weeks, asking IT chiefs what they would do with a million-pound budgetary windfall. You could be forgiven for thinking all answers would be prefixed with an "e-". Think again. "I'd form a team with a specific remit to research what are the emerging technologies for the future," said one. "I would spend it on training," said several others.

E-business has to be a priority; but it is not the only priority on the corporate agenda. And the Internet is not a business panacea, merely a new and exciting channel. In the headlong, headstrong rush to get online, too many short cuts are being taken, with high-profile glitches the result.

Don't let the advocates of the "ready, fire, aim" school of e-strategy scare you. For some organisations, the better option might be "ready, aim, lower your gun, and count to 10".

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