Photo by GARY JUNG
Marcia Wiggins and Bill Miller
created one of the largest
national online shopping
directories in the country. .
The company is based in Fort Myers

BUSINESS MONDAY: Shopping online made easy

  • Posted December 15, 2009 at 7:10 p.m.

    Lotta is a little Bichon Frise with a big message.

    As the official “spokesdog” for, an online shopping directory with a roster of retail outlets that’s approaching 1,000, Lotta will appear on your computer screen to wiggle, wink and just generally be adorable.

    Most importantly, Lotta will tell you all about the company created by Fort Myers couple Bill Miller and Marcia Wiggins.

    If Lotta’s voice sounds strangely similar to Wiggins,’ it’s perhaps not unexpected. is a home-based business that has been built entirely on a shoestring during evenings, weekends and vacation holidays as the twosome continues to work their full-time jobs. Wiggins is a flight attendant and Miller is a delivery truck driver.

    “It’s like our child,” Wiggins said of the Web site.

    But like a child, it’s something they believe in, especially at this time of year, when traditional shopping centers are frequently filled with mass hysteria.

    As compared to a mall, an online directory offers shoppers the calm and convenience of staying home with a cup of coffee and browsing a large selection of stores, Miller explains.

    “It’s just like being in a mall, without a parking lot,” Wiggins said.

    “And all the people,” Miller added. shoppers can comparison shop for desired items and may search for special values on the site’s Coupons & Deals page.

    The couple has learned that saving money is the buzzword this year. Miller created the coupons page a few months ago, and the response was “more than I ever expected,” he said. Also popular this shopping season are electronics, toys, apparel and sporting goods.

    However, is not designed to operate only at the holidays, which separates it from many of its competitors, such as those that focus on offering users a round-up of post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts. The pair promotes as one of the country’s largest online shopping directories, which is a claim based on their own travels around the web – in doing so, they say they haven’t discovered anything to compare with their own lineup of stores.

    “We really do think it’s the wave of the future,” Wiggins said of the concept.

    The twosome enjoys online shopping, and founded the site two years ago after deciding there was nothing that suited their likes and needs. Miller located other online shopping directories, but wasn’t impressed, he said.

    “They weren’t easy to use,” he said. “They weren’t convenient, they weren’t fun.”

    Neither knew anything about building a Web site or graphic design. Miller bought several books and learned how to write the proper coding. Wiggins began to court retailers. They brainstormed a name for the business; there is still some disagreement between the two about who clinched the words “Lotta Stores.”

    Finally, they registered a domain name and enlisted the help of Miller’s mother’s dog to play the highly memorable part of Lotta.

    From their own online shopping experiences, Miller and Wiggins were sensitive as to how to shape a Web site devoted to retail. They added a directory similar to what’s found in a mall to guide users to different departments, as well as colorful store banners advertising current discounts and specials.

    The site also includes an alphabetical store listing, and a quick scroll reveals there are few retail corners hasn’t explored. A lengthy list of heavy-hitters have signed on to the couple’s Internet endeavor, including Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Sears, Toys R’ Us and Amazon. There is everything from conventional mall fare such as Old Navy to luxury luggage maker Tumi.

    More esoteric items appear, too, such as a vendor that exclusively sells electric fireplaces and an assortment of travel-related services. It’s also possible to buy gift cards and gather gift ideas.

    In total, the site has 137 categories and 140 pages. More will be added, but the couple wants to be selective. Wiggins wants to be especially cautious about choosing sites that are safe for users to patronize.

    “I’d rather have quality as opposed to quantity,” Miller said.

    The couple receives a commission when a user visits a vendor’s site via and purchases something; nothing is earned if the user merely clicks on the vendor’s site. Since Web site traffic is everything, Wiggins is learning more about search engine optimization in an effort to boost their site’s number of unique daily visitors; with the holiday crunch approaching, is receiving more than 1,000 such users each day.

    They’re also relying on a word of mouth to increase their Web presence. With Lotta to do the talking, it can’t be long before the story spreads.

    “I want to get more into the dog,” Wiggins said, laughing.

    E-mail Elizabeth Kellar at

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