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Howard E. Halpern, MA CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writer) ~ WRITER~
TORONTO • ONTARIO • CANADA
The following article is presented because the topic is of interest to many of my clients and, at the same time, the piece serves as a sample of my writing:
"Commerce on the Internet"
This story was published in Information Highways Magazine, vol. 4, issue 1, October-November 1996, pp. 32-34. Appearing in a column, "The Big Picture," the full title is "The Experts' View: Commerce on the Internet." Corrections to original appear in square brackets.Fablunget Inc. [ 1 ] created a home page on the World Wide Web, investing thousands of dollars. The page had sound, color and motion. It was incredible! The only problem was that nobody showed up. Hence, nobody benefited including the company. The corporate name is fictitious, but the story is true. It has repeated itself hundreds of times. Corporate executives listen to what people say about the Internet, are captivated, and proceed to use the medium without thinking.
"They're primarily doing it because they feel they need to have a presence on the Web," says Douglas Scott, executive vice-president, Business Development, Honicorp, a global business to business commerce network based in New York City.
According to Mary Cronin, best-selling Internet author and Professor of Management, Boston College, "They think they're going to get on the Web and sell a lot of products and make a lot of money, but they don't. Their customers . . . don't find them there, and they don't know how to make their presence known."
It's crucial, says Cronin, that businesses not rely exclusively on the Internet as a source of advertising.
If users discover a site through an advertisement and visit it, the business has succeeded in levering the potential of the advertisement, with the result that much more information is communicated, at a much lower cost per unit of information.
According to Scott, the most important thing a business can do is "provide value" to users, and that value is usually in terms of saved time or saved money. The fact that the Internet is a text-based medium limits its capacity to provide qualitative value. For example, if you are about to purchase a car, the Internet does not allow you to test-drive it, as you would at a dealership.
"There are many sites that have been put out there by Fortune 500 companies . . . sites that provide zero value," says Scott.
"In order to get somebody to really come back [to the site], and to be successful on the Web, you've got to capture the user. The real key here is providing entertainment with an underlying educational message." The educational component is important because people normally visit web sites to get information.
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"For commerce to drive itself on the Web, you need to get away from that which people perceive as being saleable, and you need to focus on goods related specifically to the experience which you are providing on the Web," says Scott. The process is analogous to that which occurs at a museum: the patron enjoys the display, then wants a souvenir to savor the experience.
"Commerce on the Internet has to be almost subliminal. You don't really think about the fact that
you are engaging in commerce. It is just a natural outgrowth because of the way we interact and our
own habitual sense of buying," says Scott. "It's got to be indirect . . . in the background."
Several of these ideas have been implemented by Terry Jones, chief information officer and president, The Sabre Group of Fort Worth, Texas, in establishing "Travelocity," an online travel service created by Sabre and Worldview Systems Corporation.
Jones advises businesses to be "comprehensive." Travelocity's services are broad-ranging and include airline reservations, as well as the provision of maps and photographs.
Travelocity provides services the user cannot easily get elsewhere, for example, highlights of an upcoming Van Gogh exhibit in Amsterdam or camel-wrestling festival in Selcuk, Turkey.
The company sells merchandise related to the Web experience through an online catalogue with low-cost items like wallets and shoe bags. Furthermore, Travelocity complements Sabre Interactive a unit of The Sabre Group and Worldview Systems Corporation, which offer related services to the travel industry.
"Solve a problem in a new way," advises Jones. And provide an easy-to-use index, he says.
Jones creates confidence in his customers by assuring them he is backed by a reputable company AMR Corporation which owns American Airlines. This makes people feel comfortable about providing credit-card information via the Internet. More than 75% do.
Having begun this March, Travelocity generated 1.2 million hits and attracted 144,000 registrants in its first three months. The site can be reached at http://www.travelocity.com.
According to Michael Karlin, president and chief operating officer, Security First Network Bank, based in Pineville, Kentucky, and Atlanta, Georgia, "A lot of people are focusing on the Internet as it is today. They're making judgments and plans and they're building for today. And I think that's a mistake."
Two things are going to happen within the next four years, says Karlin. First, people will have "dial-tone access" to the Internet in their homes: establishing an Internet service will be as easy as establishing telephone service. Second, there will be a "dramatic increase in bandwidth."
Such an increase will enable transmission at 10 million bits per second (BPS) as against the current rate of 28.8 [thousand] BPS, providing immediate access to information in the home. The technology is already here.
"We should be focusing on where the Internet is going to be and how we build a business and infrastructure to handle the volume and types of data," says Karlin. It's important, for example, to focus on "being able to deliver video customer support. We need to be building a strategic plan that covers a three-to-five year period. It's going to have to account for dramatic changes in the Internet." Karlin also offers this advice:
Businesspeople should ask what kind of relationship they have with their [customers.] How do they market their product? How do they distribute their product? What do they really do now, and how might they profit by doing it better? If they don't know the answers to those questions, it's kind of pointless for them to say, ["How can I use the Internet?"] says Cronin.
Reluctant to recommend specific techniques, she points out that, having established a Web site, businesses have the option to:
Despite the fact that all four Internet experts approach the medium positively, there are challenges. Cronin points out that what we now call the Internet was not designed for business, but for defence and education. To adapt to business, the Internet must be made more secure. She points out, however, that encryption technology already exists. If properly used, data including credit card information are reasonably secure.
According to Jones, despite the fact that many talk about credit card fraud over the Internet, there is no known instance of it. If someone wanted to steal credit card information, there would be many easier ways of accomplishing it.
Also, the challenge for cable and telecommunication companies to cope with the tremendous growth of the medium ought not to be underestimated.
Karlin acknowledges that these companies are bearing considerable expense to develop the necessary technologies.
It seems reasonable to expect these costs will be passed on to the user.
Cronin mentions that users currently experience frequent busy signals when trying to logon to Web sites. It's not going to get easier. And some of the technologies have not been adequately developed; for example, video conferencing is available, but the quality is poor and needs improvement.
According to Scott, businesses are losing sight of users' needs. The user is overloaded with information. Businesses have already begun to turn people off. The Internet has a huge indexing problem, to the extent that Scott sometimes finds it easier to get his information from a library. [As mentioned earlier,] the current indexing method operates randomly; we need to systematize and customize.
Scott describes as a challenge not a danger the spectre of "Big Brother." Often, to access a service, the user has to register with the site. Having done so, the individual is susceptible to having his every mouse click tracked by the siteholder. The technology for this already exists and this gives the siteholder a wealth of information about the user's habits and nature perhaps an invasion of privacy.
The Internet is in its embryonic stage. What we do now will undoubtedly shape its future. Like any medium of communication, it can used for good or ill. If it can be said that a corporate Internet strategy is recommended, a societal Internet strategy is crucial.
About the WriterI began writing for publication in 1966 at age sixteen with the poem "Barter," which appeared in Tamarack Review.
In addition to Information Highways Magazine, my work has been published in Miss Chatelaine (now Flare), Score, Storm Warning (edited by Al Purdy), Voice & Vision (McClelland & Stewart), Montreal Star, Contrast, and Ontario Psychologist.
I earned a master's degree in psychology from the University of Regina and a CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writer) designation from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. I also have extensive technical-writing experience and will add details as time permits.
Contact InformationMAILING ADDRESS: Howard E. Halpern, 877 Kennedy Road, Suite #308, Scarborough, Ontario M1K 2E9, Canada. Scarborough is a community within the city of Toronto the fifth largest in North America, after Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
or Toll Free 1 866 877-TALK (8255)
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