Magazine article Drug Topics

Is This Any Way to Run a Cyberspace Business?

Magazine article Drug Topics

Is This Any Way to Run a Cyberspace Business?

Article excerpt

Hardly a day goes by without a drugstore or health-care information outlet setting up shop on-line. One of the newest arrivals in cyberspace is Vitamins.com, and its president, Robert Haft, former CEO of Phar-Mor, isn't leaving much to chance. His strategy is to drive traffic to his Web site through company-owned retail stores, which also operate under the Vitamins.com name.

Based in Falls Church, Va., Vitamins.com has 10 retail outlets, which Haft dubbed "demonstration" stores. They are situated in suburban Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. A rollout to other markets, including New York, is planned.

Haft explained that the idea is to educate customers in the retail setting and then lead them to the Internet for easier reordering of the company's 10,000 products, which include vitamins, supplements, minerals, natural cosmetics, books, and magazines. The stores are staffed by a nutritionist, who sits down with consumers and profiles their lifestyle and nutritional needs.

"We're building three new personalized products that will come out this fall. The more questions people answer about their lifestyle and nutrition, the better the profile we can provide for a personal vitamin and supplement regimen, ' said Haft.

Among the on-line site's promises are the following: lowest-price or free guarantee; 15% to 52% discounts on national store brands every day; free, same-day shipping in the United States; $25 in free Advanced brand products for firsttime buyers; advice from a nutritionist and medical director; an on-line health-issues encyclopedia; a free email newsletter; and a 30-day nohassle return policy.

Whether this is enough to enable Vitamins.com to succeed remains to be seen. But Haft, who takes nine different supplements, told Drug Topics, "You have the beginning of a new business. When the car business started in the 1900s, you had 500 new car companies. It wasn't clear who was going to be successful. We're in an initial period where there are more than enough choices. Who wins and loses isn't apparent yet. There are a lot of people at the starting gate. Some sites are in their very early days. The way to be successful is to give people the experience they've had in successful retail stores," he said.

How does Haft expect to deal with the fact that many Americans are still not connected to the Internet? …

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