ERA to Debut New Online Database

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The Electronic Retailing Association, Washington, is set to launch a new online electronic retailing database next month as it seeks to further solidify the path of traditional electronic retailing into the Internet.


The database, called the Electronic Commerce Online Info Link, will provide users with the ability to track, monitor and research industry trends and news. It was created by the ERA through a partnership with The Winterberry Group LLC, New York, and will be available through the ERA's Web site, www.retailing.org, the first week of February.


"When I first applied for this position, the first thing I saw on the Web site was a statement saying, 'We are NIMA International, but please do not refer to us as the National Infomercial Marketing Association.' I took this as my cue that we were in need of some new definition," said ERA president/CEO Elissa Myers. "To me, this meant, among other things, that we needed to get intimately involved with the Internet."


The ERA is looking to entrench itself as the major research source for electronic retailers, direct response television companies and suppliers.


"It's a great content area," said Winterberry Group CEO Michael Petsky. "The ERA has a great membership - and we've been in direct marketing for 15 years, so we both know the most important aspects to track on our way to building a bigger database over time for people who want to do specific industry research."


The Web site serves as a reminder that the Internet is a valuable asset to companies in both day-to-day operations and in increasing sales revenue through marketing. The ERA is looking to expand its membership into the e-commerce community. To help in that, Myers recently appointed Ben Mendelson to the newly created position of Internet industry liaison, and announced the creation of the Television Executives Council. Mendelson is an Internet designer, consultant and founder of the Internet Imaging Group and Internet Outfitters.


"When I first came on, we had a very involved strategy session where we realized that DRTV really has a rich history that we need to acknowledge and meld with the technology of the Internet," Mendelson said. "A lot of what I do is simply introducing people in the Web community to the direct response industry."


Myers estimates that of the $2.67 trillion brought home by retail last year, electronic retailing accounts for roughly 5 percent, with direct response television filling 3 percent and the Internet and direct response radio rounding it out with 1 percent each. Though she sees the Internet as the e-retailing medium for the future, Myers has not lost sight of the present.


"When people talk about the astronomical growth of the Internet [last] year, they are basically talking about an increase of 1 percent of the electronic retailing pie to about 2 percent, but every 1 percent represents about $27 billion in retail sales," she said.


Myers has elicited help from top television executives to promote the conversion that is taking place.


"The real revolution in electronic retailing is not going to take place around that box you call your computer but the box you now call your television, with a new type of programming traveling through the cable wires already installed in most U.S. homes," Myers said.


This is the thought process that lead to the creation of the Television Executives Council, which was introduced at last fall's ERA conference in Las Vegas. The council will provide services geared toward teaching television and cable stations how to effectively use, slot and produce their own direct response spots. Myers sees several potential benefits from the creation of the council.


"If you have the right hardware and you call up most sites on your television today, it looks ridiculous. It doesn't even move and it looks more like film credits," she said. "Through the TEC, we are teaching electronic retailers the basics of direct response television, how to produce their own infomercials and at the same time preparing for the future when these spots will be interactive and a viewer can buy directly through their television."


The ERA will have a day-long conference at this month's NAPTE convention in New Orleans to introduce the program to local television station executives.


"What the Internet is rapidly becoming is the ultimate encyclopedia to every product you could ever imagine buying from every source you could ever imagine would be selling," Myers said. "With more and more Internet sites and television channels than ever, you've got to figure out new ways to keep those eyeballs glued to the screen and to your product."
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