EBrick Cements Place as Shopping Resource

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EBrick.com is bringing the Internet directly to the homes of online shoppers in the form of a print reference guide called The Brick. The New York-based company, an online and offline marketing platform for online retailers, delivers The Brick mostly via direct mail to nearly 2 million consumers and retailers every four months.

The sourcebook, which contains more than 1,500 Internet shopping sites, has been distributed to consumers for free thus far. It will be sold in bookstores in about a month.

In addition to The Brick, eBrick posts another 3,000 e-commerce Web sites on its own site, www.ebrick.com. Launched in October 1999, the two resources serve as a guide to the flooded Internet, said Scot Fishman, president of eBrick.

"It all started out of frustration," he said. "My partner and I would hop online, look for stores and end up with huge [search] results. It would take a long time to sift through it all."

Working from an e-commerce database it developed that contains approximately 50,000 online retail companies, eBrick targets marketing executives at Internet shopping Web sites and sends them a copy of the reference guide. Subsequently, eBrick evaluates Internet shopping sites that request reviews of their e-commerce capabilities, such as ordering instructions, customer service and online shopping carts. About 700 sites each month ask for reviews, which cost $500 to $1,000.

EBrick then selects what it considers the top e-commerce sites to list in The Brick and in its online directory. The company turns away -- and gives full refunds to -- 35 percent of the Web sites submitted for review, Fishman said.

"We want to keep the standards up for the book," he said. "The second we start putting companies in there that aren't valued, a customer is going to pick up the book, have a bad shopping experience and put down the book."

Along with staff evaluations of e-commerce Web sites, eBrick, which is set to launch a new Web site in July, plans to install a feature that would allow consumers to provide their own reviews.

Besides sending The Brick to companies' marketing executives, eBrick ships copies of the book to consumers who request it via eBrick's Web site.

"We pretty much identified anyone that's selling or buying anything online and send them the book as a direct mail piece," Fishman said.

Through a number of partnerships, eBrick distributes The Brick via other avenues as well. E-commerce companies such as Fogdog.com ship a copy of the sourcebook with each online purchase. The arrangement guarantees eBrick's participating merchants that an online consumer will receive the book. Peapod.com, Perfumania.com and Outpost.com also include The Brick in their shipping packages.

EBrick also has partnered with companies such as Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson that use The Brick as a corporate gift. These companies distribute the reference guide to their clients and employees, with their own logos on the covers, Fishman said.

"They literally make it their book," he said. "It's a great marketing tool."

Since January, eBrick has sold several hundred thousand books at $8.95 to 35 corporate members, Fishman said. The Brick will be sold in bookstores for that same price.

Fishman said eBrick also e-mails a weekly newsletter, called Deals and Steals, to its consumer base, which stands at about 100,000. The eBrick staff researches its directory of e-commerce sites and selects the top 10 deals of the week.

The newsletter has been a success for participating merchants, he said. FultonStreet.com, which was featured on Deals and Steals three times, scored more than 100 sales from one newsletter, Fishman reported.

"Once we were featured in their newsletter, we saw an influx of customers coming in," said Lauren Polovin, executive vice president of business development at FultonStreet. "A lot of people reacted, and our sales went up as a result."

Polovin said FultonStreet's sales figures were unavailable.

"And the book is not just a regular shopping portal like everybody else has," she said. "It's a tool consumers can use before hitting the Internet."

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