Everything Must Go ... Online

In this three-day series, <I>TheStreet.com</I> holds the reality of e-tailing up to the light.
Author:
Publish date:

E-tailer.

It has the unnatural sound of tech talk. Yet in just a few short years it's sliced its way into our vocabulary -- rolling off the tongue of the avid reader in Illinois who orders books online as smoothly as it ricochets around Silicon Valley.

Sprung fully formed on the head of the pulsating new economy, e-tailers have quickly built their businesses and encroached on the territory of venerable retailing. Two years ago it was inconceivable that these virtual companies would abscond with both investor and consumer dollars from their real-world counterparts. But so they have.

In many ways, traditional retailers opened the gates by either ignoring or underestimating how the Internet would reshape even routine purchases like diapers or dog food. But now, after a year when even some of the world's cleverest merchants have turned impotent on the Web, reality is ready to rumble.

Whether the traditional retailers will be able to regain the business so swiftly usurped by their online competitors is the stuff of hot debate among analysts, investors and the companies themselves. In this three-day series,

TSC

examines pieces of the puzzle in an effort to demystify this cyberbattle.

On Monday, an overview by senior writer

Suzanne Kapner

looks at the big issues and examines how e-tailers stack up against their retailing counterparts. Staff reporter

George Mannes

then

examines

Toys R Us'

(TOY)

decision to create a separate Internet division and

eToys'

(ETYS)

recent initial public offering. It seems the toy box is shaping up to be the next big turf war on the scale of

Amazon.com's

(AMZN) - Get Report

battle with

Barnes & Noble's

(BKS) - Get Report

barnesandnoble.com

.

On Tuesday,

TSC

columnist

Jim Seymour

and New York hedge fund manager

Steven Schuster

duke it out in an

e-tail vs.

retail face-off. Don't forget to cast your

vote with the argument you like best. Staff reporter

Suzanne Galante

turns a

critical eye on Amazon.com -- which has recently entered the auction, pet-food, drugstore and grocery businesses. She asks: Has the rapacious e-tailer gobbled too much too soon?

Galante next turns her keyboard to a group of e-tailers affectionately labeled the "suicide gang" for their penchant of pricing at or below cost. She

draws some parallels to real-world retailers that have used a similar approach to make sense of this kamikaze strategy.

We wrap up the series Wednesday, first with a look by staff reporter

Katherine Hobson

at some of the real-world retailers that are still living in the Stone Age when it comes to e-commerce. And for those who are indeed tired of traipsing the malls, associate editor

Ellen Leventry

shows us that the perfect gift is just a click away. (Remember, it's the thought that counts.)

Despite the battle lines that have already been drawn, a likely outcome is that e-tail and retail enterprises will wind up working together. What better way to ride the new economy into the next century?