Lisa Simmons: The Body Shop ditches online banana putty

New Media: The Body Shop; www TaraPT com; Espotting; GoTo com
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The Independent Online

Another big name backed away from the Web last week. The Body Shop, which seemingly possesses the perfect loyal following and familiar products to sell online, has been talking about its e-commerce strategy for as long as I can remember. Now it's decided to write off its £4.2m investment in Body Shop Digital, its long-awaited foray into online business.

Plans to launch an e-commerce site in the US later this year also have been shelved, so don't hold your breath waiting for the chance to buy banana hair putty online. Bad news not only for my split ends, but also for the Body Shop itself. Assets acquired from Softbank last year for £4m are being put in the store cupboard while the company focuses on other priorities, although it claims the internet is still an important part of its strategy, along with home shopping and catalogues.

So while companies such as natural health suppliers Think Natural ( have made the successful transition from online retailer to multi-channel retailer, across mail order and high street, there is a gaping hole where the Body Shop, a global brand, could be making a killing.


Tara goes dotty

If you think you've got troubles, spare a thought for poor Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the original It girl who has overcome cocaine addiction and a penchant for stupidly expensive shoes to resurface as an agony aunt on a new website,

Adverts from big names such as Carphone Warehouse and British Airways break up the pictures of our social butterfly in her knickers, as she advises us on social etiquette. What should we wear, how we should behave and where should we go? The site gives a thorough, some would say exhaustive, analysis of how Tara P-T got where she is, where she goes and advice on the social niceties that so many of us forget in our clamour to find out which parties the newly six-packed and single Hugh Grant is attending. Always smell good, have clean fingernails and don't ever tell dirty jokes. And shop at Top Shop. Oh well, that's a start.


It's who you know...

The gossip columnists had a field day last week following the demise of Lady Victoria Hervey, the latest It girl, and Seb Bishop, co-founder of search engine's courtship. But Bishop, as he showed me his team of 35 housed in the former Truman Brewery in London's Brick Lane, was keen to point out that who you know has definitely been important in building a successful internet company.

As he introduced various relatives and friends of his "ex-girlfriend" ("not that ex-girlfriend" he smirked), it became apparent that everyone in the room knew each other, through blood, work or happening to just live down the road from each other. It seems to work. The search engine was the first in the UK to offer a paid-for-placement business model where the advertisers bid to appear higher up search engine results, and only pay when a customer clicks through to their site. Already, this cost-per-click model has attracted 3,500 advertisers, including Amazon and Go, and the company has formed partnerships to appear on affiliate websites such as Easy Everything and Ask Jeeves.

Espotting claims to perform 70 million searches a month and is about to break even after just seven months in business. Online advertising has recently taken a severe blow in terms of spend and confidence, a fact that has knocked many dot.coms ­ whose businesses depended on ad revenues ­ off their perches. A business model that sees advertisers paying only for the traffic they receive seems to be a timely addition.


Familiar ringtones

The only other major paid-for-placement search engine in the UK, US-based believes that our obsession with mobile phones is out of control.

Having measured 120 million "family" searches (ie those not of an adult nature), since its launch, the company claims that "ringtones" is the single most-searched-for term on the site. This is followed by car, job, holiday, car insurance, flights, chat room, chat, cheap flights and, wait for it, Big Brother (just a matter of weeks before the arrival of Big Brother II and the website is still strangely blank).

It's perhaps a reflection of human nature that we have this global resource, we can talk instantly to people on the other side of the world and we can find out anything we like about every subject. And yet all we want is for our phone to make an interesting ring to impress/annoy people on the bus. It seems we are all as inherently sad as those people who in the 1970s decided that to have a doorbell chiming Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was an amusing and witty reflection of what went on behind closed doors.