The Bottom Line: E-commerce is
The format for the evening was a moderated discussion with prepared
questions. Each panelist brought a different aspect of Internet expertise to the
provides Internet content and relationship management software, Deja News is an Internet
portal site for newsgroups, and ClearCommerce provides fully integrated e-commerce back-end
All three companies are highly regarded as market leaders within their
respective technology product specializations. Throughout the discussions, many
of the same key points were emphasized by all three of the panel members.
Clearly, the emerging importance of e-commerce came through loud and clear to
the audience. Here is a brief summary of some of the more important e-commerce
propositions put forward during these discussions:
- A large number big, world-class companies are already deeply involved in the
application of e-commerce to their respective business situations. These
companies will have a huge advantage by being positioned within specific
Internet market spaces first. Being first can potentially lock-in a
premium marketing slot which generates brand loyalty over time. Yahoo and Amazon
Books are examples of companies which have already capitalized their positioning
by staking out their market space on the net first. Both companies will
be very challenging to overcome.
- Fortunately, many business opportunities still exist on the Internet for
companies to be first within their industry, service, or product
categories. But if the established players do not act now, unknown start-ups
may soon fill the void.
- Steve Saltwick put it very well when he stated that "If you are a business
in the physical world - it is a safe assumption that your competitor is now
figuring out a way to capitalize on the Internet."
An Opportunity for the Little
Acording to the panel, the Internet is curently the great equalizer,
but only for awhile. Small businesses now have an unprecedented
opportunity to capture market shares one reserved only for huge companies with
large advertising budgets. The Internet currently gives everyone equal access to
the electronic marketplace.
In the United States, over eight million small businesses exist with
twenty or fewer employees. One these businesses start to move into e-commerce
activities a ripple will be felt throughout the business world. All the rules
will abruptly change:
- The number of electronic business to business transactions will
skyrocket. The big companies are already moving down this path. Electronic data
interchange (EDI) as we know it today will change dynamically as new web-based
approaches and standards are developed.
- The retail space now becomes the whole planet. Is your on-line
business ready to handle unfamiliar logistics and customs issues in Germany or
- Anything which can now be done by phone, such as placing orders, will be
done on-line through the Internet.
One of the biggest impacts of this change will be that your business
competitors will come from unexpected places. You may be focused on doing
business in the United Kingdom when an unexpected marketing innovation pops-up
on a site in Taiwan. You may be wondering what the heck happened when this
unforeseen competitor suddenly captures the attention, and the revenue, of your
U.K. based customers. The other threat is from large companies which may not
even be in your industry at this moment. The Internet now gives everyone the
ability to quickly offer new products in this emerging electronic
Establishing an Internet
All three panelists agreed that a company must first decide what their
real objective is for having a presence on the Internet. Two important choices
- Marketing Sites - these are essentially on-line electronic brochures with
slight interactivity (maybe a resume submittal form).
- Full Business Transactions - These are sites which allow product order
entry, follow-up, and support. Lot's of decisions and issues exist for these
- What technology will be used?
- What service will handle
e-commerce (credit cards, etc.)?
- What about searching and ad
- Who will host the applications?
Many businesses, according to these experts, seriously miscalculate
the impact that having a web presence with have on both their business processes
and their current organization. The implementation of a full blown e-commerce
site will usually require unexpected changes in the customer service and
delivery aspects of the business. Careful planning and use of e-commerce
consultants can help. But going into the venture with realistic business
expectations, organizational commitment, and clear awareness are the most
important ingredients for success.
Improvements on the
Each panel member also emphasized that the enabling technologies and
software to make large scale e-commerce a reality are still in their infancy.
One clear requirement is for better "canned" solution offerings for the coming
wave of small businesses who will enter the electronic marketplace over the next
few years. These standardized solutions will make the required business to
business transactions possible and painless. All of the experts suggested
that e-commerce consulting will be a huge opportunity in the years
For now, the real money to be made on the Internet still revolves
around big business advertising, sales, and transactions. But in the future,
many important opportunities will exist for facilitating the wave of medium and
small businesses now preparing to flock to the net. Many businesses will be in a
panic when they realize that they may have waited too long to jump in.
Internet technology is causing companies in all industries to pay closer
attention both to electronic marketing innovations, and to their known
competitor's Internet strategies, just to stay positioned for survival. It has
also created an unprecedented opportunity for internet business entrepreneurs
from all over the world.