Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Virtual bookstores prosper despite tech slump

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Countering speculations that "dot-com" businesses are doomed to fail, the nation's online booksellers are growing rapidly as consumers become accustomed to the shopping online, Internet bookstore operators said yesterday.

"For the first six months of the year, our sales have surged 50 percent compared to the same period last year," said Zenia Lee (李玉雯), a public relations official at Books-.com.tw (博客來網路書店), the nation's largest online bookstore.

The company is owned by Uni-President Enterprises Corp (統一企業).

"After seven years of hard work, we have broken even and started making profits as of last year," Lee said, refusing to reveal the company's sales figures.

As the nation's only online book retailer with no brick-and-mortar outlets, Books.com.tw now has over 450,000 members, triple the 150,000 it had last year.

The main impetus behind the increasing viability of virtual bookstores is a change in consumers' habits, Lee said.

"After people have experienced the benefits of online shopping, such as saving time and energy, they're no longer afraid of buying things they cannot physically touch," Lee said. "Also, they can buy books that cannot be found in traditional bookstores."

When Books.com.tw learned that they could provide a wider selection than their traditional-outlet rivals, they focused on helping customers order books that are not usually available, such as tomes from local or foreign publishers. The response was overwhelming and the company was able to develop a group of loyal customers, Lee said.

In addition to the special-order service provided by online book retailers, delivery services also helped to win customers that do not want to carry heavy books from shops to home, Kuo Po-ching (郭柏擎), associate manager of Kingstone.com.tw (金石堂網路書店) run by the Kingstone Bookstore (金石堂書店) chain since the year end of 2000.

"Many people tend to buy sets of books of several volumes online and pick up their orders at a neighborhood convenience store the next day," Kuo said.

Both Books.com.tw and Kingstone.com.tw provide free delivery to a convenience store designated by the customer for orders over NT$350. Orders under NT$350 are charged NT$20 for delivery, which is still lower than postage rates.

Kuo shrugged off concerns that the growth of the online-bookstore business could influence sales in brick-and-mortar stores, saying that many online customers had concrete ideas of products to buy, while most in-store shoppers were compulsive buyers.

Kingstone.com.tw's sales for the first six months of the year have increased 40 percent over last year, and the company is set to reach NT$240 million in sales this year while business at Kingstone's traditional stores remains the same, Kuo said.

The omnipresence of the Internet and improvements in online transaction security were identified as the third factor helping to popularize online bookstores, another operator said.

"I believe that as the Internet spreads even more, online business will grow even faster than it has up to now," said Sappho Liu (劉虹風), chief director of marketing at eslitebooks.com (誠品網路書店), which is run by Eslite Corp (誠品), one of the nation's major bookstore chains with 50 outlets.

As of last year, there were over 8 million households nationwide with Internet access and 2.26 million of them are broadband Internet users, according to a report by the Institute for Information Industry (資策會).

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