SCW: Rather than fighting e-commerce, many retailers are interested in finding ways to combine brick-and-mortar and online sales. Why should a small- or medium-sized retailer be interested in high-speed Internet access?

The small- to medium-sized retailer doesn't necessarily have to rely on its own high-speed connection. There are a lot of places where retailers can outsource space on other Internet service providers' servers to maintain their web presence. But they do need some kind of decent connection for their own internal use if they conduct any kind of business that is going to be digitally based. The size of the connection depends on how much traffic they anticipate and what percentage of their customers will be conducting business with them through that connection.

SCW: What kind of broadband Internet access does Solomon Galt provide?

Solomon Galt is primarily a wireless service provider, although we can provide other types of services.

SCW: What are the average installation fees and monthly price ranges for these different types of connections?

Installation fees are generally about $150. Price ranges can be anywhere from $50 a month up to $1,500 a month.

SCW: In working with retail clients, how long does it generally take Solomon Galt to install wireless high-speed Internet access?

We quote to the customer approximately 48 hours.

SCW: For a small- or medium-sized retailer, is there a particular broadband format that makes the most sense? Why?

DSL seems to be a nice alternative to traditional methods. Our solution brings a timely installation and reduced cost. We don't have any local fees associated with our delivery mechanism whereas with a service like DSL, a lot of these things are embedded into the monthly price. We don't require any hardware for the connection so there is no capital investment required for the retailer. As opposed to services like DSL, we can have multiple systems connected to the same connection without any additional fees.

SCW: How much work has Solomon Galt done with retailers, either in helping them set up websites, or in setting them up with high-speed Internet access?

Some of the services we provide above and beyond the connectivity are actually doing the back-end programming. We do database applications, the actual HTML or web page designs, so we really represent a turnkey solution to the retailer.

SCW: Could you describe other Solomon Galt services that could help retailers with e-commerce strategies?

One of the things that seems to be overlooked by many retailers is that some of them don't have a system in place internally that manages all of the aspects of their business. Many times, when customers come to us and they say, 'We want a web presence now,' we often find ourselves in a position of looking at what they have internally as a company first and then trying to bring that out for access to the Internet.

SCW: In setting up web pages, what are some of the difficulties that smaller businesses are running into?

It usually comes down to a design concept. What makes the website attractive so people will continue to come to the site? What will keep them there for an extended period of time and produce registrations, if that happens to be desired by the retailer? What will make the site intuitive so that it's easy to browse and to make purchases on?

SCW: Some companies have been criticized for developing overly complex websites that take too long to load. Consumers end up abandoning these pages. Is there a particular approach to setting up a website that Solomon Galt recommends?

Some of the pages you see that do take a lot of time really can be attributed to the processing time for the clients' computer systems. Most people visiting retail sites will be coming through some kind of a service like AOL or some other modem-based service and many of these people are on 28.8K connections or 56K connections. There are a lot of things you can do with compression to try to reduce the size of your site.

SCW: Is there an average time and cost to set up a website for a small- or medium-sized retailer?

It really depends on the client's needs but it can be a two-month project all the way to a six-month project, depending on how involved you have to get with the business. Prices can start anywhere from $25,000 and then go up from there to about $200,000.

SCW: Do you see dial-up Internet access disappearing in the next few years?

I don't think dial-up access is going to completely disappear in the near future. Within the United States, there is a tremendous opportunity to see the volume of dial-up connections go down. If you look at the total picture worldwide, there are other countries that just don't have the infrastructure to really support even the dial-up today, the way we do. But with offerings like DSL and cable, I think we are going to see a significant drop in dial-up access in the United States.

SCW: Do you think wireless high-speed connections eventually will become dominant? What about fiberoptic connections?

I think the biggest area for the average consumer will be in the mobile wireless market. People who already own cell phones or PDAs will be able to gain access and make purchases through those devices. The fixed wireless market is going to see a tremendous boost in installations and number of customers they service because they do have a short install time and bypass a lot of the legacy infrastructure that some of the other services like DSL or cable rely on. Fiberoptic connections offer the maximum amount of bandwith in terms of technologies today. But there is a big build-out phase that is required. All estimates suggest that we are probably about 20 years away from seeing fiber becoming predominant in all the major metropolitan areas.

SCW: The challenge for the shopping center industry is to figure out how to invest wisely in evolving technologies and stay ahead of the curve. Do you have any advice?

I think we are going to see an evolution and a metamorphosis between what we know as broadcast - like television - and what we are seeing more as a "narrowcast" on the Internet. There is going to be some kind of a combined medium between the two: back-end technology that supports whatever infrastructure we are going to see in the future. Being prepared on today's Internet will leave the door open for those retailers to evolve with the changing medium.