In 1999, an e-commerce team at Maytag decided that consumers were ready to buy washing machines over the Web. Retailers and distributors, however, were not pleased, believing that their businesses would suffer. The Newton, Iowa-based appliance maker decided to back off.
But like many manufacturers, Maytag has spent the past two years rethinking e-commerce. And slowly it’s coming up with ways to work the Web without making waves.
In January, Maytag launched a new site that allows customers to choose the washer and dryer of their dreams and buy it online, and software from Redwood City, Calif.-based Comergent Technologies automatically transfers customers to a local retailer’s site. Maytag charges the retailers a fee to participate in the program, and so far 30 percent of the country’s 10,000 Maytag dealers have signed on.
“We said, OK, how can we work with retailers out there?” says Ken Boyle, Maytag’s vice president of e-business. Boyle, who helped put together Delta Air Line’s e-commerce site before coming to Maytag, says the site will be profitable before 2003. Already, he says, half of the Internet orders come during nonbusiness hours and the average ticket price for a sale is more than $1,000. “What we’re finding is that people do trust the Internet for large purchase,” says Boyle.
Car manufacturers are heading in the same direction?think global, implement local. Ford, for example, has partnered with dealers in a site that lets customers choose their car model and get a price quote from a local dealer. FordDirect, now operating in 12 states, allows the carmaker to compete with dotcoms such as Autobytel.com while maintaining cordial relations with those that move their cars off the lots. “Over time, we’ll build a conduit to the consumer that is far better than any single dealer can build on their own,” says Randy Ortiz, executive director of Ford’s “e-ssembly” unit. “Suffice it to say, fulfillment will always be through the local dealer.”