An Interview With Overstock

16 Apr

Last Friday I spoke with Sean McClaugherty, Partner Program Director for Overstock.com. Despite a number of challenges and problems over the past few years, Overstock has continued its impressive growth and is #18 on the IR500. Sean shared with me his thoughts on the landscape of ecommerce and the direction of Overstock in the upcoming year. For 2007 Overstock has some new ideas.

Jeff: Sean, thanks for taking some time to speak with me today.

Sean: My pleasure.

J: Overstock has a conference coming up, doesn’t it?

S: We are having an invitation only Summit April 30-May 2 for about 100 of our largest partners (note: Overstock refers to its merchants as partners) to discuss what’s new at Overstock. Each of our department/category heads will be giving presentations aimed at including our partners in what we’re doing to help improve site conversion and customer retention, increase sales velocity and, ultimately, grow their businesses with us. We’ll also be discussing our new relationship with ChannelAdvisor and a similar relationship with Infopia.

J: You are talking about your integration partners?

S: Yes. We are developing relationships with solution providers; companies that have the same commitment to the customer that we do, to help build out our partner program. Historically, Overstock has looked at manufacturers and large distributors for partners and product. Now we are actively pursuing smaller merchants to tap into their expertise in their industries to help ‘shine a light’ onto some of our unmet demand and obviously to help meet that demand.

J: What are some of the areas your partners have traditionally done well in or are categories you are looking to grow.

S: Our strongest categories have historically been Bedding & Bath, Home & Garden, Jewelry & Watches, and BMMG. We are looking to aggressively strengthen our catalog in House Wares, Apparel, Sporting Goods, and Computers & Electronics through our relationships with ChannelAdvisor and Infopia.

J: Any new initiatives coming out of Overstock in the near future?

S: We are building a wiki, Omuse which is available to everyone interested in participating. Our hope is that our partners will use Omuse to help build customer interest in their categories by writing guides about their products. We will then link the guides to product pages at Overstock.com, which we expect to generate increased sales for our partners through improved natural search results. We see it as a case of a rising tide helping all boats.

J: How many products does Overstock typically carry on any day?

S: We have maybe 700,000…750,000 products. The bulk of those are various forms of media.

J: So looking further a field than just Overstock; what gets you excited when you look at online commerce in general?

S: There are so many smart people out there developing new strategies to drive traffic and sales. I’m a relatively young guy and this in an industry that didn’t even exist when I was in high school and was only starting to gain momentum when I graduated from college. The internet has really allowed people who may have otherwise struggled under a traditional business model to have the opportunity to get noticed my millions of people and to have access to markets they could not have reached before. That’s the American Dream, really.

J: Other than on Overstock, where else do you shop online.

S: Honestly, I don’t buy much online. I’ve never bought anything off Ebay or Amazon.

J: Hmmm. OK. So what was the last thing you bought online?

S: Probably music.

J: Downloads or CD?

S: CD. I like having the album art and the liner notes from a real CD. I also want to hear the whole CD; I want the entire musical experience the artist wanted me to have.

J: Thanks Sean for your time. Do you have any shameless plugs you’d like to make?

S: Overstock takes great pride in its partner program. If you haven’t been exposed to Overstock, and you think you’d like to see what we are about, I’d encourage you to submit an interest. We really are motivated to grow quickly with you.

S: There are so many smart people out there trying new things to drive traffic and sales. This in an industry that didn’t even exist when I was in high school. The internet has really allowed people who probably could not have started a traditional business, an opportunity to get noticed my millions of people and have access to markets they could not have reached before. That’s the American Dream, really.

J: Other than on Overstock, where else do you shop online.

S: Honestly, I don’t buy much online. I’ve never bought anything off Ebay or Amazon.

J: Hmmm. OK. So what was the last thing you bought online?

S: Probably music.

J: Downloads or CD?

S: CD. I like having the album art and the liner notes from a real CD. I also want to hear the whole CD; I want the entire musical experience the artist wanted me to have.

J: Thanks Sean for your time. Do you have any shameless plugs you’d like to make?

S: Well. Overstock takes great pride in its partner program. If you haven’t been expose to Overstock, and you think you’d like to see what we are about, I’d encourage you to submit an interest.  We really are motivated to grow quickly with you.

 

(this post was edited for form and substance)

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