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What price the URL?

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Boo.com is facing collapse, following the failure to complete a $30 million refinancing round, the FT reports.

This could force the online sportswear retailer to call in the receivers within 48 hours, according to "people close to the company," cited by the paper. So what price the URL, if Boo.com (the firm) folds? The domain name is memorable enough, but tainted by a whiff of failure. An interesting pricing dilemma.

Of course, Boo.com the company could always pull the rabbit out of the hat. But it looks increasingly like the bag of tricks is empty.

Where's a company doctor, when you need one?
So what next? Effectively, the options are: trade buyer or death. A third option - restructure as an independent entity - looks unviable. Otherwise, Boo.com's investors would have coughed up the money by now.

Any which road, Boo.com's VC investors will nurse a hefty loss - Boo.com was Europe's biggest Internet start-up, with $200 million or so raised in the first financing-raising round, from, among others, Europ@Web, Goldman Sachs.

At least, it's the smart money that gets it in the neck, this time. Boo's execution was obviously crocked - over-complicated Web site, huge delays in launching, expensive and crap TV advertising, ramping up staffing too early (and so increasing the cash burn). This means that it was never near ready to float on the stock market and suck in the dumb retail investing hordes.

From the off, The Register has questioned Boo.com's strategy. On 18 November, last year we wrote: "This bring us to Boo.com, the extravagently funded Web sportswear retailer, which opened six months late, but in time for Christmas.

"On launch day a couple of weeks back, an FT article revealed Boo.com's decision not to sell clothes at a discount. We use the word decision lightly - Boo.com had to agree to sell clothes at list price, or else it wouldn't get manufacturer franchises. This sucks. That ain't Rip-Off Britain - that's Rip-Off World.

"Boo says it will distinguish itself by the quality of its service. Will that be enough? We don't think so. Imagine how far Amazon would have got if it sold all its books at list price. Does anyone think Amazon is downmarket because you can get a bargain or two there. Boo will find the going much tougher because of its falling into line behind rip-off manufacturers."

NeverNeverland

And on November 29, under the headline: 'Consumers reject clothes shopping online', we said: "With a fair wind and 200 million VC money behind you, anything is possible. Or so you would think.

"But what if you're flogging clothes over the Net, as Boo.com, the extravagantly-funded sportswear purveyor, is trying to do. You can tell it's got heaps of money - or how else could it afford those incomprehensible ads currently on British TV.

"But will it get heaps of customers?

"In a interesting piece comparing e-tailers with their bricks and mortar counterparts, star Sunday Times business columnist Irwin Stelzer digs up a survey that will be of great interest to Boo.com's backers.

"Compiled by NPD, a US market research firm, it show that "e-tailers have a long way to go to crack their bricks and mortar rivals on the clothing market. Nearly half of Net users say they will never buy clothing online and those who are willing to make such purchases seem to concentrate on a few speciality clothiers and on shops that they patronise offline.

"Good news for Gap, in other words, and not so good news for Boo.com."

Boo.com laid off 70 staff after Christmas. But it still employs 300 or so. On the bright side, these people will bring a wealth of expensively won Internet economy skills to whatever jobs lie ahead of them. ®

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