On the Web, in-depth information is a powerful and persuasive sales tool. It also helps to overcome a major inhibitor of Internet commerce: a simple lack of trust in the vendors themselves.
Robert Olson and Peter Granoff, creators of an Internet wine store called Virtual Vineyards (www.virtualvin.com), based in Palo Alto, Calif., have been tackling that particular problem by giving lots of concrete product information and reviving the personal touch that has nearly disappeared with the rise of the superstore. By doing so, they have managed to establish credibility in a niche market.
Granoff, a wine maven with a good reputation in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers advice on topics such as wineglass selection and the relation of storage methods to climate. He also instructs users on taste and the operating details of specific producers. Olson works on making the Web site even more personal and intimate. For example, he can use customers' own preferences, gleaned from their order histories, to present wine options in line with their previous orders. "Every time we strengthen the authorial presence, people respond," says Olson.