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From tea time to tee times, the Internet changes everything

In April 1988, Celestial Seasonings (www.celestialseasonings.com) introduced a line of herbal dietary supplements. Despite that early entry in what is now a hot market, Celestial continues to be better known for its teas. The company reasoned that educating the consumer would drive the growth of its supplements.

Celestial found that 39% of its customers were heavy Internet users and wanted to create an Internet presence to enable consumers to learn more about herbal teas and supplements and (ideally) to order them online.

The company has created an Internet site that preaches the benefits of herbal supplements and provides an online product catalog from which to buy them. The company’s "Celestial Direct" is its largest business unit in terms of anticipated growth year after year.

"Celestial Seasonings has a recognizable brand image and product experience. As a result, links to our site are quite eclectic," said R. Steve McKown director of information technology with Celestial. He explained that Celestial is connected to the majority of its customers and distributors via EDI technology. "Because of the relative robustness of EDI, extranet functionality is being considered but is not currently planned," he said.

"We put the E-commerce site up a year ago as a proof of concept. The results we received with no promotions were very encouraging," McKown continued. "We believe our strength is in our brand awareness, our existing customer base and the millions of tea and supplements products we sell each year. We will leverage each of these to raise the awareness of our Web site and direct mail catalog."

With support from Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com), the Celestial Seasonings Web site was up and running in 60 days. The solution, built on components provided by HP and its channel partners, includes: an online catalog and ordering system from InterShop (www.intershop .com); payment software for credit card verification and authorization from CyberCash (www.cybercash.com); consulting services provided by DIS (www.dis.com), which needed to accommodate Celestial’s access for adding and modifying product information in the catalog. DIS also designed PERL, a warehousing application that generates packing slips and receives UPS tracking information for display to the customer on the Web site.

The hardware includes a single processor HP 9000 D270 with 512 MB RAM, 8-GB disk space in a mirrored configuration, which supports the Web server, the E-commerce components and the access database interfacing to InterShop On-Line.

According to McKown, Celestial Seasoning exceeded its 90-day goal for hits per day and for online revenue within the first 30 days. Despite that, McKown conceded that keeping content fresh has been a struggle during the first year of operation.

"We are applying additional resources and forging some information-based alliances to provide greater depth, breadth and frequency of new information on the site," he said.

"To be successful with a community approach, you need to first understand the needs of the consumer," McKown added. "These needs tend to be more lifestyle-oriented and informational in nature. I think you build traffic by finding this relevancy link, which then provides a user base for sales generation."

A site for surfing golfers

Emerald Solutions (www.emeraldsolutions.com) has its own view of tee time. The systems integrator is working with Golfgateway.com (www.golfgateway .com) to develop a tee time system that coordinates reservations for member golf courses throughout the country. The goal is to link a network of courses offering not only bookings, but playing conditions, the weather and even the ability to pay green fees online.

Reservations can also be made from traditional sources such as phone calls or on site. According to Emerald Solutions VP Frank Halpin, the problem for individual courses has been coordinating those bookings from disparate sources.

According to Halpin, in addition to avoiding double-bookings, other challenges face individual courses attempting to build such a system. "It’s more than a facilities management program," he said. "This has been built as an Internet system from day one and includes functionality you think of with the Internet."

For golfing surfers, that functionality includes features such as the ability to set demand-based pricing, live photographs of the courses and constant updates of playing or weather conditions. Halpin offers the example of an interactive system that alerts scheduled golfers of a morning frost delay.

The customer interface is a straightforward Web site. The wholesaler’s access is controlled by user ID and password, but unlike individual golfers, wholesalers cannot establish their own accounts (their privileges are controlled by the golf courses). Golf courses are also connected via the Web, but in their case, it’s a Windows-based application integrated into the Web page. Golf courses can:

  • update their own Web pages at any time;
  • specify the details of their relationships with wholesalers (e.g. green fee discounts, billing methods);
  • establish individual relationships by player type (e.g. discounts for seniors, advanced access to tee sheets).
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