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Tuesday, 21 September, 1999, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
The Internet jungle

For an Internet start-up, is not doing badly.

During its first two weeks of operation, the UK-based shopping website has been swamped by visitors, recording more than 23 million page impressions. If the trend continues, will make it straight into the UK top 10 websites, jostling for position with the likes of Freeserve and Lycos.

Big carrot

But why the success? After all, is treading very familiar web-commerce territory, selling computer hardware and software, videos and CDs.

The most likely explanation is's big carrot approach, luring users with a 10m give-away.

After registering with the site, new users are rewarded with free software packages like Norton Utilities or a Bugs Life video and similar goodies, as long as supplies last.

Doubling capacity

Steve Bennett hopes to bring some order to the Internet shopping jungle
The marketing ploy was nearly a touch too successful. During the first two days of operation,'s servers buckled under the strain. The site was painfully slow, putting off many potential customers.

But with two days server capacity was doubled and the site running smoothly.

Steve Bennett,'s chief executive, freely admits that he simply did not anticipate so much traffic.

Mr Bennett, though, should be used to rapid expansion. He is the founder of Software Warehouse, one of the fastest growing companies in the UK.

Ten years ago he began to sell computer software. Now his company has some 350 employees, more than 30 stores, and records an annual turnover of more than 100m selling all kinds of computer equipment.

Turning a warehouse into a jungle is Steve Bennett's second e-commerce website. was already doing online business, but the name was not only clunky, but a limitation as well.

Software Warehouse users are redirected to, but corporate customers have their dedicated e-commerce web site
The jungle brand is snazzier, and allows the company to offer a wider range of product lines.

But creating a new brand from scratch is not easy. To start with, the company had to buy the domain name from a previous owner, and the marketing budget alone weighs in at 7.5m.

However, if Mr Bennett's gamble works, he could repeat the Software Warehouse success, but this time on a big scale.

During the first year hopes to achieve a turnover of 33m.

Friends of the jungle

Unlike a company like Virgin, which is tagging its brand on to an ever wider range of products - from airlines to perfume to financial services - Steve Bennett wants to stay focused.

He is happy to rent out space on his jungle site to other companies - through the "friends of jungle" portal.

Carphone Warehouse, Admiral Insurance and are among the companies that have set up shop.

As a sideline, provides free Internet access, following the Freeserve model.

The secret of e-retailing success

Jungle is not only a retailer, but a shopping portal too
Visitors to the jungle website may find its presentation surprisingly basic.

Steve Bennett promises that his team will soon add bells and whistles. CD listings, for example, will soon feature music clips and cover images.

But he did not want to wait until he could offer the "perfect web site". The risk of being "overtaken by rivals", he says, was just too great.

World of mouth and advertising will make sure that users do return, he says, even if they are not bowled over during their first visit to the site.

But if is a success, it won't be just because of its web design, Steve Bennett believes.

E-commerce revolutionary: Stan the Monkey guides buyers through the e-commerce jungle
The UK may be "on the verge of an e-retailing revolution", but ultimately it is the job of getting the goods to the customer that will make the difference, he says.

For Mr Bennett, the Internet is just another "front end", a virtual catalogue instead of a traditional mail-order business or bricks-and-mortar shops.

Mr Bennett brushes aside suggestions that he may be too late to join the game, now that rivals such as Freeserve have built up a huge base of potential customers.

He is convinced that his previous service and mail-order retail experience will give the edge to beat rivals.

Buying loyalty currently receives about 1,000 orders a day, and each customer typically spends 65.

To keep them coming back, customers are promised "loyalty points", can track the progress of their order and soon will be able to download free clip art.

But ultimately, customer satisfaction can only be achieved through efficient distribution, says Mr Bennett. And his experience at Software Warehouse has taught him how to do that.

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See also:

20 Sep 99 | The Company File
Internet shopping explosion
16 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
UK online shopping doubles
30 Aug 99 | Business
E-commerce threat to taxman
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