Electronic Commerce (eCommerce)
Any communication raises four questions. "With whom do we want to communicate?" "How do we communicate with them?" "What do we want to tell them?" "What response are we seeking from them?" Most failures in communicating arise because these questions are not recognized and answered clearly.
"With whom do we want to communicate?" Considering whether to communicate via the Internet differs little from considering whether to communicate via Our Hometown News-Chronicle or The New York Times or As the World Turns. What are the demographics?
Virtually no Web sites have yet developed media kits similar to the traditional print and radio/TV media. However, an authoritative aggregate market survey recently released by Computer Intelligence Infocorp (La Jolla, CA) concludes there are 15 million Internet users in the United States. 62 percent of these users report they are online for two hours or more each week. But only 2.7 million users are utilizing the Internet for shopping or to obtain commercial services, e.g., travel and financial services information. Three-quarters of the total users are on the ‘Net simply for email and desultory browsing. More than two-thirds of the ‘Net users are men, relatively young, modestly affluent, and with an understandable high-tech bias -- a unique demographic niche.
Some have dismissed this data noting that the active users of the Internet (2.7 million) comprise only one percent of the total population of the US. Nonetheless, the significance of this data is that even today this active market is more than 15 percent greater than the total global circulation of The Wall Street Journal. This market is growing dramatically every day, and it can frequently be accessed -- continually -- for a fraction of the costs incurred employing traditional media. As always, the key is having a clear grasp of the demographics of the market with which we want to communicate and then selecting the media that reaches this market most efficiently.
"How do we communicate with them?" Here we encounter the fundamental question of "location" -- "Where do we place the store?" There are two alternative answers to this question, with a number of variations. A business may establish its own Web domain or it may utilize a "site" on an established domain. A useful analogy may be the difference between building one’s own shopping mall or renting space in an established shopping mall. Establishing one’s own Web domain requires securing and registering a unique name with InterNIC Registration Services and a Web virtual address with an Internet service provider (ISP); the domain can be accessed instantly through its URL (Web address). One assumes responsibility for the technical and artistic design of this domain, although this task can be subcontracted to others. Subsequently, it requires the attentive maintenance and daily update of this domain. The Business Forum online is an example of a Web domain with its own unique URL:
However, utilizing a "site" on an established domain is quite common and almost indistinguishable to all but the most knowledgeable viewer. One has one’s own URL, the site can be accessed directly, and the unique URL can be included on letterheads, business cards, and all company literature. The domain host often offers technical and artistic design assistance, if needed. The selection of the "right" domain host also offers the benefit of accesses to one’s site through the host in addition to direct accesses. Again, this is analogous to a shopping mall where customers can be expected to come into our store simply because they are "cruising the mall" in addition to the customers who came to the mall specifically to visit the store.
Every merchant knows that, with some special local exceptions, the mere opening of a store rarely yields much business. Truly, the Web today is a panoply of innumerable innovative shops, most of which are almost devoid of patronage. Our prospective customers must know about the store and be enticed to visit it. The challenge presented on the ‘Net may be even more formidable. A Web site cannot flourish on "walk-in" traffic alone. Despite all the commotion about millions of techies "cyber-surfing," this is not likely to yield meaningful business. Exactly as with any other market communications, sign posts have to be positioned aggressively pointing our customers to the store.
Online interactive communications and business development will be the continuing focus of subsequent columns.
Your comments and suggestions for these pages are most welcome!
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Revised: July 15, 1996 TAF
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