Survey scans the digital horizon

  • Article by: JOHN J. OSLUND and DAN FREEBORN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 1999 - 10:00 PM

That clickety-clickety noise is rapidly turning into the sound of money.

Most of Minnesota's largest companies believe e-commerce is the Next Big Thing. And although most don't generate many Web dollars today, most plan to develop the capability in the next 24 months.

Oh, and that Y2K problem we've heard so much about? Most Minnesota companies said the problems will be minor.

Those are among the findings of this year's Star Tribune 100 survey of the largest publicly held, Minnesota-based companies. Today's survey report follows the ST100 analysis published in the Sunday Business section. The information also is available online at

Nearly 90 percent of the 119 companies responding to the ST100 survey said they'll be using the Internet a least "a little" to sell to customers within the next 24 months.

If that prediction holds true, it will represent a major shift because 80 percent of the surveyed firms said they now derive less than 1 percent of sales from the Internet. Twelve percent of the companies surveyed said the technology will not be a factor in their business within the next two years.

Catalog retailer Sportsman's Guide, Northwest Airlines and business services firm Ceridian Corp. are among the 20 percent of respondents that already generate 1 percent or more of their annual sales from e-commerce.

Northwest, which was among the first big airlines to sell tickets over the Web, derives about 2 percent, or $180 million, of its $9 billion in annual sales from the Internet, said spokeswoman Marta Laughlin.

That's nearly $500,000 per day pouring in from .

Meanwhile Web-wise shoppers can order the new Jennings Buckmaster bow or Big Foot tree stand or a shotgun-shell carrier at the Web site of the South St. Paul-based Sportman's Guide Inc. ( )

Janine Shovein, vice president of sales and customer service for Sportman's Guide, said the catalog retailer has had a Web site for several years but added e-commerce capability in April 1998.

"It's a natural for us for us to do," she said, noting that the company, which sends out millions of catalogs a year, already had the infrastructure necessary to process and ship Web-based orders.

Shovein said e-commerce sales accounted for 1.5 percent of sales in the fourth quarter of 1998; 2.1 percent of January sales and 4.4 percent of February sales.

"It's been very successful," she said. "and very invigorating for us."

Computer Network Technology, a Plymouth-based networking services firm, said it derives more than 10 percent of its $133.5 million in 1998 sales from e-commerce. CNT's relatively large share of e-commerce sales is consistent with national trends showing computer and electronics firms as the biggest e-commerce users, accounting for $19.7 billion of the $43 billion in 1998 online sales.

Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., estimates that online business trade will reach $1.3 trillion -- 9 percent of total U.S. business sales -- by 2003.

What Y2K problem?  

As for the millennium bug, most Minnesota firms believe the economy will experience some negative effects but none that are "material," accounting lingo that basically means not large enough to matter.

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