Seminar explores e-commerce potential

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— Susan Larson tackled a sticky subject in front of a Steamboat audience of about 150 people Wednesday.

Specifically, Larson urged attendees at the E-commerce Conference and expo 2001 to make certain their business Web site is as sticky as they can make it.

"Stickiness is really what we all want," Larson said. "We want a site that glues you to us."

Larson learned a few lessons about business and e-commerce during a career as a vice president at Dell Computer Corp., and she was willing to share them with her audience at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center.

Larson, who recently left Dell after working in their United Kingdom division in Ireland, now lives in Steamboat.

"Stickiness" has become a buzz word in the new economy because of the increasing importance of attracting and retaining visitors to business Web sites, Larson said.

When Dell first began shifting its customer support from the traditional phone banks to e-mail messages on its Web site, company executives didn't really know what to expect in terms of economic benefit.

What they learned was that they saved as much as $31 per tech support request. Multiply that number times the millions of requests Dell receives every year and it's easy to grasp the significance.

"What we really learned to do was put ourselves in our customers' shoes and look at our company through their eyes," Larson said. "Once you learn to do that, and learn what the competition is up to, strategy isn't so difficult anymore."

Larson was able to transfer her impressions of international e-commerce down to the local level.

She said she believes the Internet represents an opportunity for local businesses to help each other become more successful. But there needs to be more cooperation among local businesses on Internet strategy.

"There's an opportunity for us to do a better job of marketing our destination," Larson said. She said she believes that providing the information potential visitors seek, earlier in the process, is one of the keys.

"There are some great retail sites in Steamboat," Larson said. "Unfortunately, some of them are buried deep in other sites."

Elements of the business community need to work together to display links to those individual sites more prominently. The process can be as simple as more and more businesses swapping their links with one another.

Lodging companies may tell their prospective guests that they are a half-mile from the gondola. But that doesn't rise to the level of what Larson calls "useful information." It would be more useful if the lodging company's Web site said its condos are a half-mile from the gondola, they also offer van service and they are on the free bus line, Larson said.

But resort companies need to take it to another level by providing easy-to-read area maps that make it clear to a woman booking an expensive vacation that her children can walk to a pizza place from the condo, and her mother-in-law can easily grab a taxi back to the condo from the gift shop.

The lodging company's Web site should include a button to click on to get information from Alpine Taxi. And the Web site should also reflect what band is playing in what downtown night spot during the week the woman's family will be in town.

"This is the power of the Internet," Larson said. "If I'm going to spend my vacation dollars, I want to know this stuff."

The E-commerce Conference and Expo 2001 was sponsored by Colorado Mountain College, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and the Small Business Development Center.

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