Startup Spotlight: boo.com

boo.com combines trendy sportswear with a cutting-edge interface - but critics say it isn't all it's cracked up to be

First there was Niketown, now there's boo.com. The site bills itself as the first truly global e-tailer, dealing in funky sports brands such as DKNY Active and Converse that are a must for the high street.

On entering the site, you are hit with the largest archive of 3D product photography on the Internet, which lets you to try on their products on a male or female virtual mannequin. The site operates in seven different languages and delivers to eighteen international markets, providing free delivery within five days to the US and Europe. Boo.com has only been live a month, yet it already has 350 employees and 350,000 registered members.

Reactions from the public, however, have been mixed. The site has opted for cutting-edge design and heavy graphics, a controversial choice in a world still dominated by analog modem users. And the fancy coding techniques mean that the site is, for now, unavailable to Macintosh users. boo's defence has been that it, unlike other online retailers, is catering to high-end shoppers rather than the bargain-basement crowd.

techTrader spoke to Ernst Malmsten, CEO and co-founder of boo.com about the reactions that the site has received, and the trend that boo.com hopes to set in the field of e-commerce.

What do you predict will be the most exciting trend in e-commerce in the future?

I think that consumer Web sites are soon to become a virtual real store, offering a complete shopping experience. Text based interfaces will be replaced by a more visual form of expression, and European sites will shift their focus from technology to retail.

Describe your unusual approach to e-commerce. How does your target audience differ from the people who might go to, say, Zoom or Dressmart?

The 3D imaging that distinguishes our site is effectively pushing e-commerce to the cutting edge. We are targeting an audience with a younger mindset, who are looking to purchase premium brands. They are also more attitudinal, falling into the urban life-style category. Our business model does not attempt to compete with price -- our focus is to provide excellent customer service to those who buy from us.

What plans do you have for upping interest in the site?

The second version of our site, due to be launched shortly, which will be much better at merchandising. It is important to make sure that the speed of the site is improved, and that its interface is easier to navigate. We have plans to put more money into marketing, so that we can learn valuable lessons from customer behaviour and experience. At the end of the day, we are a controversial site which we are pleased about as it is good for our brand. We intend to become more competitive, but not a discount site, as we will always see ourselves as a premium shop.

What's your philosophy about how people get access to the site? For example, you've been criticised for restricting users to 56K modems and faster, and to newer-version browsers. Don't you think this will reduce your possible audience?

It was a business decision to concentrate on an audience at the upper end and growing sector of the industry. We believe that people are more broadband, and that Internet access is going to get better. The text-based model that Amazon uses for example is easy to create and can be used by all browsers, but it doesn't have the visual experience that boo.com offers.

Some people have talked about technical problems accessing the site. Is there any truth in this? Do you anticipate having to work out bugs over the next few weeks?

There are always technical problems with launching something new. Mac users haven't been able to access our site, and we have also had problems with Javascript, which I understand will be fixed later on in the week. In terms of the issue of bugs -- this will always be an ongoing problem for such a complex platform as the Internet.

Where do you see boo.com in a year?

I would like to see it as the leading site in the sports fashion sector. I believe that it can become one of the top e-commerce players in the world, particularly in Europe where we can operate under different currencies and languages.

Any plans for a stock market flotation? How will you continue to finance the site?

We want to concentrate on business first, as we believe that it is most important to be a healthy and stable company.

Startup Spotlight is a new weekly feature on ZDNet UK News and ZDNet techTrader, featuring the bright sparks of the UK's high-tech startup industry. For more of the faces behind the news see the Startup Spotlight archive.

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