[ UPDATE: Sep-00 The following paragraph (written in Mar-00) is obsolete, but retained here for historical interest. The money has been lost, the assets auctioned at pennies to the dollar, and the BMWs and Porches have been taken away by the repo man. ]
B2C (Business to Consumer) on the Web as a pure e-Commerce play is doomed. Most of the companies who's stock is flying so high right now will be gone in a year or two, or will have used that money to buy a real business (as some are already doing). Others will be purchased for next to nothing by traditional retail businesses.
Of course, there are exceptions. The porn industry is doing very well in B2C. Several magazines have written articles on how far ahead they are in developing cooperative methods for exploiting the Internet. [ UPDATE: Mar-01 Porn is reported saturated now, with about as many new sites coming on line as new customers, and the sea of free samples has got to be cutting into sales. ]
Now the "big thing" is B2B (Business to Business) e-Commerce. A whole lot more investment money will be lost here, because the same lot of arrogant ding dongs are setting up flashy B2B "portals" without any concept of how business is actually conducted. [ UPDATE: Mar-01 Some of the biggest B2B sites have already shut down, and many more or nearing death. ]
You Must Be On The Web - But . .
A large and rapidly growing number businesses and individuals do their product research and vendor selection on the Web - even though they pick up a phone or get into a car when they actually buy. If you aren't on the Web, you may not be considered at all.
Whether or not you make credit card sales on your Web site is another question entirely. It depends on your business model and your customer base. It may be absolutely essential, or it may be a lot more trouble than it's worth.
If you want to establish a "pure play" operation - selling only on the Web, be aware that practically everyone doing that on a substantial scale is losing money, lots of money. Some small operations say they are making money, but many of them are working pretty hard to do it.
On the other hand, an e-commerce site could bring in additional income without a whole lot of additional effort for an already established business. It isn't going to be effort free, nor risk free, so proceed with care, but since you have to put up the Web site anyway . . .
Hazards of Web Selling
Web selling is just a version of catalog selling. The same rules apply and it has the same problems - just more so - and it has a few unique problems all its own. It has been estimated that 11% of on-line transactions involve fraud. That's one in every ten!
To succeed in retail e-Commerce, you need an angle, preferably an angle that isn't easy for others to duplicate. Examples where e-Commerce can be successful are:
Implementing an e-Commerce Web Site
E-Commerce sites are designed and implemented the same way as any other Web site, a process explained in our article Building a Commercial Web Site, but involve special considerations.
The top consideration is security. Don't neglect it. Many sites have ended up notifying thousands of customers that their credit card information had been compromised. Not only must you carefully configure the security options in your software (especially for Microsoft products which default to an unsafe state) you must monitor security bulletins for each of the products you use and install patches whenever they are posted.
The next biggest consideration is that your hosting service (unless you host your own site or co-locate) supports the full range of e-commerce features you require. You will probably also link to outside engines for such things as fraud detection, credit card clearing and even your shopping cart.
Software for implementing e-Commerce is available from many vendors, at prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. As always with software, what you pay doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of what you get.
Keep in mind that e-Commerce on any scale is expensive, so you must intend to do enough business to make it worthwhile. Your e-Commerce site must be promoted and advertised at least as intensively as for a physical store.
©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access
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