Businesses weave them self on Web | NevadaAppeal.com

Businesses weave them self on Web

Becky Bosshart

K.C. and Christine Vetterli stand with a fraction of their stock at Ski Universe on Tuesday. The Carson City business sells former rental skiis. Rick Gunn Nevada Appeal

When you type “online shopping” into the Google search engine, it spits back 11.5 million hits. Bargain shop, grocery shop, browse super online shopping malls – all from your personal computer.

And even that’s gotten easier. Google recently launched its new Froogle site. Frugal shoppers can compare prices without overloading their Internet browser. Type in something specific – such as Kung-Fu Dancing Hamster – and it returns with the sites where you can find the item and at what price. The cheapest dancing hamster is $7.95.

U.S. online sales are expected to hit $144 billion this year, according to an annual Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research. The study also reported that 2003 online sales represented 5.4 percent of all retail sales. In 2004 that is expected to reach 6.6 percent. Online sales are expected to increase more than 40 percent in health and beauty, apparel and gift categories.

Many online business professionals believe they corner the market on convenience. The customers don’t have to wait in line. In a hectic world, life’s little errands – such as banking, shopping, registering for school or even shipping a package – are accomplished while sitting at a computer. And these professionals are willing to bet their jobs that this is no longer a trend. They think it’s become American culture.

From zero to hero

Twenty-eight-year-old K.C. Vetterli proclaimed that he doesn’t know much about computers. But he does know how to ski. Vetterli has been flying down snowy hills on finely formed fiberglass skis since the age of 4.

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Vetterli and his wife, Christina, are supported from the profits of their online ski shop, Ski Universe. K.C. Vetterli said last year’s annual profit was $700,000. They are recent transplants to Carson City from Utah.

“Obviously Nevada has good benefits for corporations and it’s close to skiing,” he said. “We can be by the mountains and be in a conducive place for business.”

Ski Universe sells all ski and snowboard equipment. This week they’ll continue setting up shop on the Web, which all starts from a Fairview Drive warehouse.

Vetterli started the business in 1998. That year the profit was a big fat zero. Since then Vetterli has seen a dramatic swing in sales. He estimated the site receives about 2 million hits every ski season, which is an increase of about 50 percent from 2003.

“I think it’s just that we sell things much cheaper than anyone else,” Vetterli said. “Online shoppers are bargain shoppers. They come online to find the deals.”

They can keep the prices down because the company overhead is much lower. The Vetterlis don’t have retail space. And no retail space means they can spend their time, and money, on things other than direct customer service.

“Really it was just pure chance and luck,” he said about starting a dot-com. “It wasn’t a decision to go into business. I started selling one thing. I sold one thing, then two things and three things, and then I never had a job again.”

Do you take an electronic check?

Convenience is key, Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess said. Customers visit the bank’s online site and discover that it’s easy and doesn’t cost them anything. So they come back.

“(Internet) traffic has increased over the last year,” she said. “We’ve had phenomenal growth. And what’s driving that is that we’re very focused on what our customers want.”

As of July, the mega-chain bank has 11.4 million active online banking customers, which is an increase of about 50 percent from 2003. The company measures that by people who’ve used the service in the last 90 days. About 4.6 million people pay their bills online, compared with 2.5 million a year ago. The online bill pay service has evolved so that you can even pay your baby sitter or dry cleaner.

Riess said industry statistics show that early adapters once dominated online banking, but now mainstream consumers are moving to the technology.

“Early adapters are people who adapt to new technology early on,” she said. “We’re seeing that as we see this tremendous growth it really appeals to the mainstream.”

Click it out the door

An ad pamphlet for the U.S. Postal Service’s Click-N-Ship service starts like this: “Prefer online convenience?”

America’s response to that is “yes,” according to a representative from the post office’s Nevada Sierra District.

Click-N-Ship is an online shipping service requiring a one-time software download to your personal computer. With the software the customer can fill out and print package labels. Customers pay online with a credit card and then leave the package for the postal worker at their door step. Or you can drop it off at the post office. Or you can schedule a collection by calling an 800 number.

From when it was introduced in May 2002 to October 2003, about 1,800 packages were being mailed per month using Click and Ship in the Nevada and northern California region. In July 2004 that increased to 15,300 packages, according to a post office representative.

“It’s going up every month,” Nevada Sierra District Small Business Specialist Terry Martinez said.

How do I learn this newfangled skill?

For those who are intimidated by the mere sound of fingertips across a keyboard, you may consider taking a class. The basic Internet class at Western Nevada Community College costs $31.50.

You just have to sign up for it online.

Anne Hansen, WNCC information and marketing director, said for the last two years students have registered for credit classes only online.

“Some of the older students prefer to have assistance and we assist them,” she said.

Computer kiosks for registration are located on campus if the student doesn’t have access at home.

Hansen said students can go online to look up their class fees, grades and print unofficial transcripts.

“People appreciate the convenience of it,” she said.

Contact Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.