E-Commerce: Doing Business on the Internet

by Sheila Millar

"No Web site address?

"What? You mean your information is not available electronically?"

"I've already downloaded product information from your competitor!"

The Internet is enjoying the spotlight. There is so much information available about the World Wide Web that one can be overwhelmed by it all -- but it is not going to go away! So developed and growing has doing business via the Internet become, it has been given its own name: E-commerce, that is Electronic Commerce. Over these next months we shall be looking at how business can benefit from the Internet whether it be a small gift shop or a large industrial conglomeration. As technology advances at an incredibly fast pace, there is no need to be left behind. Let's look at how the Web can help our businesses succeed.

How it All Began

In September 1969, "Are you receiving this?" was the first message sent between a network of computers in five different American universities. Thus the Internet began. The research had been instigated by the US military's desire for better and more secure communications. They wanted networked computers that could talk to each other even if they went off-line (switched off) while safe-guarding military data. It wasn't long before universities, researchers and other non-governmental people were finding the vast resources within the Web to be extremely useful in many fields. Today it has become the latest technology to alter the way business is conducted as more and more people are using it.

Selling on the Web

It appears these days that almost everywhere you look, you see a web site address for almost every kind of business. It is no longer only the major computer companies that have that http://www....phrase along with their name. Anyone from a New York deli to a London plumbing company can now boast of an Internet address. Take the book trade for example. An article in The Sunday Times in 1997 looked at one of the oldest names in British bookselling, Blackwells, synonymous with academia and specialist publishing and asked what such a company is doing on the Net. They claimed their income from Blackwell's Online Bookshop would be £600,000 that year with a projected £10 million in 1999. A spokesman said, "We are reaching out to a different type of customer than our traditional bookshop: 80% of them are overseas."

Also in Britain, two-thirds of the nation's local newspapers have amalgamated their classified ad information for the web. One web site selling cars, updates its information daily from 700 local newspapers. The cars can be searched by location, make, model, year, price and even colour and all from an individual's own pc. Never before has so much information been available so easily. The beauty of it all is that every individual can have access to it.

Purchasing on the Web

It is not only useful for selling but also for making purchases. A friend of mine recently went to great lengths to research information about electronic organisers via the web before purchasing one. He saved a lot of time and money by not having to make endless phone-calls or wait for information to come through the post but was able to make a definite decision on the basis of the information gained on-line. Major companies do this too. For example, General Electric (GE) in the USA sources $1 billion worth of products and raw materials via the Net which is about 3% of its total purchasing. (The Times,1997). Companies wishing to supply GE are invited to register on its Web homepage and initial contact is conducted on-line. GE estimates its savings around 20% on the cost of raw materials through competitive tenders and up to 80% savings on time spent in negotiations. Now where time is money, that counts!

Where Does That Leave Us?

Businesses can find many uses for electronic communication over the Internet from lowering the cost of sending faxes and overnight packages to superior international communications. Every business will have different goals. Some will benefit by using this tool for direct sales, others will see improvements in their customer service departments while others will view the Web as an opportunity to create and sell to new targeted audiences altogether. The telegraph, the telephone and the fax machine have all left their mark on commerce over the years. It is impossible to think of doing business today without the use of any of these and so, the same will be seen with the Internet everywhere very soon. Let's begin thinking how we too can benefit from this technology within the roles we find ourselves today.

First words sent over the telegraph:

"What hath God wrought?"

First words spoken over the telephone:

"Watson, come here. I need you!"

First words sent through the Internet:

"Are you receiving this?"

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