Craig - I think the best have evolved from exactly what your are saying. I was always a big mail order person - mostly because I have been a backpacker since childhood and in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, one could not find this type of B&M speciality stores you find today in major cities. Whether it was a small 1 or 2 product company or one like REI (gear) or LLBean for nice casual clothes, we went to these people through mail order. Plus, back in the Delta days, we all worked shift work and the last thing we wanted to do was go shopping on our off days (three shifts - days, evening, midnights ... 7 on, 2 off, 6 on, 2 off, 7 on, 3 off ... it sucked big time, but we all did it ... not whining - for historical purposes only )
The great mail order houses jumped into online ordering with abandon and most were able to hit the ground running, adapt their process-oriented procedures to online ordering, and were successful. The model is there.
Extensive selection, great product descriptions, easy to navigate catalogs, outstanding customer service (ordering, easy, returns, issues, questions, etc) - they did not have to reinvent the wheel. They just took a good thing and adapted to an onlince process. They were already 24/7/365 so no change there.
The great ones were already great at segmenting their markets to ZIP codes, etc. Now, with tracking software, they can do an even better job of knowing what the customer wants - sometimes even when the customer does not know they want something.
Yes - it is mail order reinvented - but it ain`t brain surgery.
It`s new. There are [probably/at least] hundreds or thousands of differences. Interactivity, dynamics, etc. There are similarities, sure, but I don`t really think they`re the same at all. For one thing, web sites have proliferated far beyond catalogs. There`s global access, etc.
It`s a new medium, entirely.
Hmm. I have a book recommendation that contains utterly priceless information on this entire subject. If you do not already have this book:
22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al & Laura Ries. [It`s a short read.]
Make *absolutely sure* that you get the edition with the Internet marketing/branding section. It contains exactly and absolutely the information you need. You can pick up this book at Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. It discusses the difference between catalogs and Internet sites, etc., and contains numerous tips on how to execute in this space.
The chapters titled 11 immutable laws of Internet branding are what you want. [Although the other chapters are utterly excellent as well. This is just about the best marketing/branding book I`ve ever read ... and I`ve read a lot.]