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Boo.com: 3 Lessons from an eCommerce Horror Story

Miniature shopping cart with boxes on laptop
Credit: Mymemo / stock.adobe.com

Paths to Failure

Boo.com was one of the greatest failures of the dot.com bubble that burst around the turn of the millennium. 16 years on, we are still talking about this failed online retailer for sports clothes, not only because it was spectacular but also because the reasons for boo.com’s demise are timeless and a cautionary tale for modern marketers and start-ups.

When boo.com was established in 1998, its three founders were already millionaires as a result of selling their successful online bookseller website bokus.com. Boo.com was destined to be their next success story: the first online retailer selling sports gear, a trendy company for the internet-hungry Generation X. However, boo.com’s more than 100 international offices had to close down in 2000, after the company, already in a tailspin, couldn’t raise any more funds from its investors. What went wrong?

Marketing an ill-conceived product

Before boo.com even went online, over 350,000 potential customers wanted to be notified of the site’s launch. A huge advertising and PR campaign, which accounted for millions of dollars, had already made a global brand of a store not even seen online yet. However, developing the site took much longer than anticipated, the technology for transferring the offline shopping experience to the online world still buggy. All that, while marketing expenditures kept spiraling and not a single sale was being made.

Lesson learned: Marketing should always be based on a product. Not the other way round.

Marketing for PR’s sake

Boo.com’s marketing was lavish and expensive, while also relying overly heavily on PR. A magazine named Boom was produced in-house and published in various languages, but only geared to compete with established fashion magazines, without an opportunity to order any items from boo.com. To order, a separate catalog-style magazine specifically for existing customers was produced. The result: the boo.com brand became widely known but failed to achieve the corresponding sales results.

Lesson learned: Marketing should (mainly) tie into sales goals and support them.  

Marketing that ignores the reality of your customers

To lure  their target group of 20somethings in to spending money on  online ordering, boo.com wanted to transfer the physical shopping experience online, including a virtual shopping assistant. Each item could be dragged over a virtual model and then viewed from every angle. A clever idea – but its implementation needed complex software, which only worked well over a broadband connection, while most customers still used a dial-up connection at home. Which they now had to use to download the bulky software … before waiting 8 seconds for every new page to load. They subsequently lost their patience with boo.com.

Lesson learned: Be ahead of your clients, but don’t leave them behind.

Author

Peter Ramsenthaler

Peter Ramsenthaler

When working for a global brand back in the 90s, Peter realized that spreadsheet overload and inefficient processes were holding back the marketing team. That’s when he decided to build a martech platform that gives businesses back control and allows marketers to bring great ideas to life.