Cynicism about the mindless exploitation of the Web has infected every aspect of me. I remember when I first heard of the Web, I said, "Wow, you could print a newspaper and not have to deliver it. I want in on that business." That simple logic has now been corrupted into the following: "Go raise easy money on the Web and then burn shareholders, as nobody can make a dime on the Web except Yahoo! (YHOO) and AOL (AOL) ."
Wow, from innocence to exploitation in three hyperlinked years. The corrosion of the relationship between the stock market and the dot-coms has blinded me to the simple value-added propositions that are indeed out there, but which just aren't scale propositions. In other words, maybe the best e-commerce is cottage-style, allowing people to create and sell wares cheaply without having to go begging through the distribution channel that only has room for international brands cookie-cuttered in China!
With that in mind, I want to devote this week's State of the Web to a wonderful letter I got from reader
this week. It is repentance for me to print this, because last week I
blasted the no-value-added e-tailers. It turns out there are plenty of value-added sites; they just haven't gone public:
Dear Mr. Cramer, My mother sent me a copy of your column in which you discussed the value of online companies, including "online sporting goods and online shoes" via e-mail. I wanted to give a response. I have two Web sites, one is devoted to skateboarding and the other is shoes. Our skate site has info on our team, local news, artwork and, of course, our product -- which helps pay for the site. Our shoe site is devoted strictly to selling shoes. We also have a local shop in Austin, where we sell these products and more. Shoes have always been an important part of our business so it was natural to take them online. Your questions ("Where is the real value-added here?" and "What's the deal with that?"), although presumptive, have validity. I wanted to respond to them. We have much value. Our value is that we have product that is hard to find and not stocked at major chains. Our value is that we are small enough to answer directly to our customers on a daily basis without resorting to "form" emails. Our value is that we try and offer the best customer service we can, which has been an important part and value to our business since we began in 1987. We entered the Web world in '96. We do all our Web work in-house ourselves, which allows total creative freedom and a noncorporate look-and-feel. We constantly update our sites, so they are not like a printed catalog, which we don't have. Our sites are our catalogs. Our value is that we can show the customer new stuff almost the day it arrives. Our value is offering the customer fun sites that give them a true "feel" of us. We don't have the capital to open a store in every city, but we can give the customer the next best thing to being there when they visit our sites. We're not Amazon.com (AMZN) - Get Report or eBay (EBAY) - Get Report, nor do we want to be. But we do have value in that we provide something that kids and adults won't find on Amazon or eBay. We fill that niche. We are of value and proud of our work. Thank you for your time. Laurie Pevey
The company's site is located at
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Yahoo! and AOL. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at