On July 30, the Dialog Corporation launched Planet Retail (http://www.planetretail.com), a Web-based comparative shopping service for consumers, and unveiled its plans for targeting the e-commerce marketplace, including the business-to-business market. In its press release, Dialog cited forecasts from Forrester Research, Inc. estimating that "the inter-company e-commerce market will grow from $8 billion in 1997 to $327 billion by 2002," and noted that, according to Odyssey, "nearly 30 percent of online households made a purchase over the Internet in the last six months." Seeing the potential for new revenue sources, the new Dialog management has definitely decided to face the Web head- on with its own all-Net products.
First Phase The Consumer Market
The first phase of the Planet Retail service leverages a partnership with the Junglee Corporation, which powers other shopping services and arranges for participating retailers. The opening screen of Planet Retail is a bit corny (in my estimationsorry, Dialog ), with little green men in space vehicles. "Welcome to Planet RetailThe Internet Superstore. The world's most cost-effective online shopping guide." The next screen announces, "Planet Retail Junglee Shopping GuideStructured by InfoSortPowered by Junglee." At the moment, Planet Retail is very similar to WebMarket.com, another Junglee distribution partner.
Users are able to search the Internet through Planet Retail's user-friendly, point-and-click interface to determine the best available online prices from approximately 100 Internet retailers in 11 main categories, from books to clothing to electronic products. Planet Retail allows users to quickly search and select products based on information such as brand names, product types, and price. The user is able to sort the resulting table of matching goods by any of the available criteria, such as price, brand, or the merchant providing the goods, and links are provided to enable the user to order the goods from the merchant.
A Dialog representative said it would be adding additional retailers as well as working with existing retailers to increase their exposure on the system. Initial participants in this phase, which is entirely sponsored by advertising, include many familiar retailers, such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, CD Now, Dell Computers, Eddie Bauer, FAO Schwartz, Land's End, Music Boulevard, The Gap, Wal-Mart, Disney, and Office Depotas well as many I'd not heard of, such as Chumbo, Fossil, and videoflicks. A full list of companies was included in the press release, but I was unable to get a list of participating merchants from the Planet Retail site, either in total or by category, as I could on WebMarket.com.
The second phase of Planet Retail will add the capability for consumers to make purchases directly from the Planet Retail site. Planet Retail will provide confirmation receipts from all retailers and total the expenditures from within the service, relieving users from entering credit card information for each retailer.
In addition, the second phase will incorporate Dialog's InfoSort data indexing technology, enabling users to browse product reviews, company profiles, and relevant news and research to ensure that they are getting the best value for money. Furthermore, users will be able to elect to be alerted to new products in particular sectors, or relevant information about those products.
The Planet Retail initiative is led by Andre Brown, director of strategic alliances and special projects at Dialog. He reports that phase two is planned for the first quarter of 1999. I asked him about possible fees for the additional informationthe reviews, profiles, and news. He stated that "there may be some for-free data, but information about product reviews, etc., will be very valuable to anyone seeking to make an online purchase, especially for the higher-value ticket items, and so such data will be made available on a chargeable basis. This is our normal business model for Dialog and Profound."
The Business-to-Business Market
In the business-to-business market, the company is developing a complete solution for purchasing managers in small, medium, and large organizations. Scheduled for release in the first quarter of 1999, this solution will provide a purchase management system, to reside on an organization's corporate intranet, allowing purchasing managers to predetermine budget allocations for each individual within the company. DialogNet, the company's secure network backbone developed to support the information services business, will also provide security for transactions between companies and suppliers.
I asked Brown to provide more details on what information would be included. He stated that "it will build upon the existing product/price comparison model and will look to include integration with a corporate purchase management system, as well as centrally aggregating the purchasing decisions, so that individual users can order many items from many disparate vendors all in one go without having to jump to each individual site. Dialog will aggregate the purchase decisions and pass the transaction details to each individual vendor."