Electronic Commerce (eCommerce)
Thousands of nerds and geeks swarmed through the cavernous Hynes Convention Center in Boston from October 15 through 17 for the DCI Internet Expo. The more than 250 exhibitors ranged from the United States Postal Service and the ubiquitous Microsoft Corporation to First Floor Software and SoftScape, Incorporated. The techno-babble was deafening, and the atmosphere was thick with acronyms. But was there anything here warranting the time and attention of the no-nonsense owner/ manager of the smaller business or entrepreneur? Emphatically, Yes!
Dismissing the hype and hysteria surrounding the Internet, the reality is that the way we do business is indeed being revolutionized by the ‘Net with incredible speed. Defensively, the smaller business must stay abreast of these developments simply to avoid being blind-sided. Proactively, the Internet now enables the astute owner/manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur to acquire unique competitive advantages unimaginable only five years ago.
Listening and observing carefully during this Internet Expo, it is clear that electronic commerce (EC) is maturing much faster than anticipated. EC is a totally different concept than the pioneering homepage. No matter how colorful and lively the graphics may be, the typical homepage is simply a show window. EC is defining a wholly new interactive relationship with our customers. Rather than challenging their technical agility, EC is designed to make it easier and more comfortable for our customers to do business with us. It is designed to be user friendly in new and exciting ways. And today, it is designed to strengthen our connection and enhance our competitive relationship with our customers.
The Trilogy Development Group (Austin, Texas) presented a stimulating two-day program during the Internet Expo. A privately-held company with 1995 revenues of $70 million, Trilogy is a leading architect and provider of integrated Enterprise Software for Sales and Marketing. Designated The Selling Chain, this pioneering suite of EC applications enables the dynamic exchange of mission critical information between the enterprise, its sales team, and its customers. It is designed to make the enterprise an easy company with which to do business, a company offering enhanced customer satisfaction, and a company offering the customer valued-added in terms of desired product choice, better price, preferred delivery, and/or easier transaction processing (buying).1
There were noteworthy demonstrations of successful installations in operation ... today:
- The Chrysler Corporation has installed kiosks in its dealerships around the world enabling customers to write their own purchase plan in minutes. They can examine and compare models, colors, prices, and realtime nationwide availability. Their purchase is free of the distasteful stress traditionally associated with the purchase of an automobile. A byproduct is improved sales forecasting data based upon customer desires rather than recording what was sold simply because it was on the dealership floor.
- Haworth, Inc., a major manufacturer of office furniture and furnishings, now provides interior designers with online technology enabling customers to undertake space planning and office design, visualize it in three dimensions, obtain a firm price, and submit an order -- all in a matter of minutes.
- Fruit of the Loom, Inc. has given its distributors (customers) the technology to write their own orders via the Internet. This system permits distributors to place orders, check pricing and product availability, and subsequently check order status in seconds whenever they want.
- The Custom Foot in Westport, Connecticut, has no in-store inventory; under the guidance of Jeffrey Silverman, President, customers are linked interactively with custom workshops in Italy to define their individual shoe style and construction preferences and the exact sizes and shapes -- of each foot. This is a comfortable and exciting shoe buying experience.
Among the several other success reports also on display, these four examples demonstrate the powerful new bonds that can be built with our customers via electronic commerce (EC). This technology -- in-place today -- extends the enterprise to our customers, our partners, and our resellers. EC transforms the smaller business into a truly customer-oriented business, and literally links the customer with our enterprise in previously unimagined ways. The bugaboo of transaction security for electronic data interchange (EDI) has been overcome during this past year, removing the last obstacle to executing complete sales and financial transactions online. Marketing focus has been shifted from selling products to helping our customers select the right product for their needs -- interactively.
The Internet Expo disclosed how quickly connections and relationships with our customers as well as transaction processing are being changed. This new world of electronic commerce offers the owner/managers of many smaller businesses and entrepreneurs extraordinary opportunities to gain unique competitive advantages -- to create new sales channels and extend the enterprise directly to our customers.
1 See, "The Emerging Business and the Internet -- Parts Three and Six," The Business Forum Online, for a discussion of the primacy of value-added.
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