ANALYSIS: Weekly Web Watch - Boo.com’s launch nightmare shows that seeing is believing

You’ve probably all heard of Boo. com by now. It’s that online clothing outfit run by a bunch of Swedes who raised more than dollars 100 million in venture capital to be a global Gap of the Internet - but with cooler clothes. Boo.com has been getting fantastic PR; everyone who falls in that 18-to-30-year-old online shopping demographic knows it has got great customer service, great prices and a funky Web interface that lets you turn the clothes around in 3-D and really examine them in a way you can’t do with other online clothes sites.

You’ve probably all heard of Boo. com by now. It’s that online clothing outfit run by a bunch of Swedes who raised more than dollars 100 million in venture capital to be a global Gap of the Internet - but with cooler clothes. Boo.com has been getting fantastic PR; everyone who falls in that 18-to-30-year-old online shopping demographic knows it has got great customer service, great prices and a funky Web interface that lets you turn the clothes around in 3-D and really examine them in a way you can’t do with other online clothes sites.

You’ve probably all heard of Boo. com by now. It’s that

online clothing outfit run by a bunch of Swedes who raised more

than dollars 100 million in venture capital to be a global Gap of

the Internet - but with cooler clothes. Boo.com has been getting

fantastic PR; everyone who falls in that 18-to-30-year-old online

shopping demographic knows it has got great customer service,

great prices and a funky Web interface that lets you turn the

clothes around in 3-D and really examine them in a way you can’t

do with other online clothes sites.



The October issue of the UK edition of Men’s Health is a case in

point. It pictures one of its ’readers,’ a marketing executive

named David Whitlow, surrounded by clothing and Boo.com

packaging. It’s part of a feature headlined ’Male Order,’ and in

it Whitlow is full of praise for the site. He especially likes

the fact that you can ’turn garments around so you can see

everything from different angles and in close-up too.’ He’s happy

with the service, and says the things he orders arrive within 48

hours.



There’s just one small problem, however. Boo.com, which has been

about to launch ’real soon now’ since about June, has been dogged

by technical problems. It has yet to launch and it has yet to

sell a single garment.



All you get when you go to the site is a nice Macromedia Flash

animation and an invitation to leave your e-mail address so that

you can be told when Boo launches. That leaves a lot of readers

of Men’s Health disappointed, not to mention annoyed with both

Boo.com and the magazine. And then there are the readers of the

many other publications that have featured Boo.com as the hot new

online shopping site.



It also leaves Men’s Health rather embarrassed. The magazine’s

problem was the two-month delay between its copy deadline and

hitting the newsstands.



In order not to appear out of date with something like this, it

took the gamble of believing Boo.com’s PR people.



And Boo.com and its PR agency’s mistake was to believe the

technical people who said it would all be all right.



One of the cardinal laws of any Internet business is never to say

you’ve done something until you’ve done it. There is too much

that can go wrong, especially when someone is trying to push the

envelope technically. Men’s Health has learned a valuable lesson:

when it comes to the Internet, never believe anything until you

see it. And Boo.com’s PR people have, hopefully, learned another

salutary lesson: when it comes to the Internet, never say

something until you’ve seen it. The embarrassment they have

heaped on Men’s Health, not to mention the commercial damage

caused to Boo.com, is not forgivable.



It is understandable, however. The pressure to be first to market

in the online arena is so great that companies are regularly

tempted to start the marketing and PR before something has been

properly tested. And then there is the pressure to make sure your

investors remain under the impression that you’re achieving

things. Smoke and mirrors are all part of the game.



But millions of people can end up getting hoodwinked in the

process.



And when they realize that they’ve been had, it not only damages

companies like Boo.com and the media that fell for it. It also

damages consumer confidence in the whole Internet and e-commerce

industry. If only Boo.com itself was as effective as its

publicity machine.



Stovin Hayter is editor of Revolution. All e-mails should be sent

to stovin@revolution.haynet.com.



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