E-COMMERCE: ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS AND FUTURE ISSUES
E-commerce is perhaps the most widely acclaimed buzzword, which gained popularity even aftermath of so-called dot com boom and diffusion. Every business aspect was being viewed with identifying business opportunities with the active support of IT tools especially Internet. Though various business models evolved and still the process of finding the most suitable model for different business propositions is continuing, the impact of e commerce practices can be felt and acknowledged without any reservations. However this impact is varied across different nations due to their characteristic differences in economies. The trends in e commerce practices show that it will gain the requisite volume with the pace of IT revolution as seen across the world. This is a brief description of modern practices and emerging trends related to technology, design and security issues involved in e-commerce.
Major technology and business companies such as Microsoft, AOL and Amazon.com are in the lead in developing and marketing wireless communications services and products required for facilitating business through wireless internet. AOL wants to make instant messaging available to all its customers and Amazon is already selling books using palm pilots. WAP (wireless application protocol) will be developed for use for wireless pages, instead of HTML.
Portals are sites that combine a portfolio of basic content, communication, and commerce sites. For the most part, they started out as search engines. There are two different types of portals in use, broad-based portals i.e. sites that serve everyone.
They include Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Excite, Snap, Lycos, AltaVista, Look Smart, About.com, Juno, Earthlink, etc. Vertical portals are the sites that focus on a particular content category, commerce opportunity, or audience segment, with a broad set of services. Examples of such portals include CBS Sports line, Garden.com, eBay, Amazon.com, Blue Mountain Arts, CNET, etc.
A smart card is basically a credit card with a built-in microprocessor and memory used for identification or financial transactions. When inserted into a reader, it transfers data to and from a central computer. It is more secure than a magnetic
stripe card and can be programmed to self-destruct if the wrong password is entered too many times. As a financial transaction card, it can be loaded with digital money and used like a travellers check, except that variable amounts of money can be spent until the balance is zero.
Digital Signatures – Future Trends
The future trends in digital signatures will depend on the proper and responsible use of the technology. Even though digital signatures are remarkably secure, there is a growing concern that the keys might be stolen from the owners and they could be used fraudulently e.g. when a key stored in a system is accessed by a service agent there is very good chance that the key might be used for advantage of many outsiders. And in the future though digital signatures are set to embrace the corporate world, it is of low importance to the customer, as he is very unlikely to purchase his home, car, etc., online. However this technology can very widely be used in many other small-scale transactions online. In the near future many software applications will support the concept of digital signatures. Already Adobe Acrobat supports a feature called Self-Sign, a plug-in that can be used for signing and validating. Apart from this Verisign, Entrust and many other companies have unveiled their packages that go hand in hand with applications like Adobe Acrobat and MS Word. So this technology will surely be commonly used in the future, though it might take some time before it has been accepted as a standard.
E-COMMERCE DESIGN ISSUES
As the website of the business organization offering e-commerce services are their front offices and showcases for their customers, a good design can make a web site stand out among dozens of competing sites selling similar products. A well thought-out presentation can boost traffic and sales. The best-designed sites keep customers coming back. Simplicity seems to be the best strategy in web design for e-commerce.
E Commerce managers and web-design staff must ensure that it’s easy for users to download a page, find an item, make a purchase, and navigate through page after page without losing track of the starting point. Navigation is seen as the key; the first step to building a simple yet effective e-commerce site.
The biggest hurdle in online shopping faced by the customers is lack of opportunity to physically verify the suitability of the product for his or her needs. In some category of products it becomes almost impossible to make a decision based on the passive display of product. Innovations in these directions are aimed to remove this hurdle and some of the sites have shown a path to resolve this problem. For example landsend.com provides a virtual model, which can be configured to the same body type, hair color/ style, and skin tone as the customer. A very interactive shopping experience is enabled by iMedium, a company that developed See! Commerce technology with products See! Catalog and See! Mail. These technologies, are direct response applications that allow merchants and retailers to offer their customers an interactive shopping experience based upon scenes, photos or pictures that contain embedded, contextual advertising and merchandising links. The approaches that allow customers to see the products in real time before they purchase are starting to be used to enhance shopping experience. Gallery Furniture Inc. and FAO Schwarz are two of the companies using this technology.
Catering websites to customers’ preferences increases the depth of knowledge about customers, reduces customer-acquisition costs, and builds brand loyalty. This is known as site personalization. Personalization means presenting the site visitor with specific information based on his or her identity or behavior; it is all about making the content more relevant for the user. The tools for personalization include click stream tools, which watches the pages that the visitor browses and keeps track of time spent. Thus they know where the customer has been on the site. Others tools such as collaborative filtering tools examine data based on explicit preferences, and statistics about likely purchases come from the patterns shared with similar users in the database.
Rules-based systems build user profiles and incorporate business rules driven by the site owner (i.e. rule can instruct server to show the site in French if the visitor comes from a French domain) and also barriers which include price and privacy concerns.
Live customer service companies are responding to customers’ requests for customer service throughout 24 hours 7 days a week. One of the ways by which they have done this is to create a virtual assistant, like Jill at cozone.com. Jill asks questions like a real person would ask, and as a result, gets email from satisfied customers. However, sometimes customers want to talk to a real person, and it is possible now with LivePerson, Inc. E businesses are realizing that customer service is the bottom line when it comes to how successful they will be.
PRIVACY IN THE CONTEXT OF E-COMMERCE
One of the most controversial topics in e-commerce today is the privacy of customers. The most common apprehensions are like, what are they doing with our information? Why do they want it? What will they do to our so-called private lives? In order for businesses to build lasting and fulfilling relationships with customers, they need to know as much about them as possible. However, as all of us are aware, this information is being used for purposes other than to serve us. The big question for e-businesses is how to collect their customers’ information yet still maintain their trust.
This will be an issue for some time to come. E businesses will have to learn to balance personalization with privacy issues. Companies must only gather and use data that will help their customers complete the business on their website. However, the reality is that information is routinely being sold and used for purposes other than the reason the information was originally gathered. So what are the organizations’ responsibilities?
Personalization on the Web takes two basic forms: collaborative filtering and profiling. Both are the attempts to collect specific information that will be valuable to generating additional traffic, click-troughs, and revenue on Web sites. Collaborative filtering is voluntary. It takes information provided by the user and predicts what information will be of interest to him or her. It can also compare a user profile with those of other users to create common-interest groups and make recommendations based on other customer preferences. In profiling, a visitor’s actions are observed and gathered through the use of a cookie, a unique identifier for that customer.
Subsequent user clicks identify patterns of behavior and interests, which result in the presentation of specific information to Web sites visited. There is also the ability to allow the collection of information on an individual’s cookie across multiple sites.
Open Source Model for Customer Data
CPEX (customer profile exchange) is a new standard for how customer information is gathered and used. The standard is being developed by a group of large companies, including Compaq and oracle.
Customer Service Issues
Bad customer service had a negative effect on e-Businesses. Technical difficulties with shopping carts, failure of customer service representatives to respond to inquiries and frustrations about returning items are among the issues that customers often complain about.
Standard for e-commerce
A need for a standard in e-commerce has been recognized and the standard for Internet commerce was developed by Global Information Infrastructure (GII) in association with Ziff Davis. The Commerce Standard is a codification of best practices in Internet commerce developed by a community of world-leading thinkers and practitioners; it specifies the merchant practices and policies that lead to high levels of customer satisfaction, service, security and privacy. The Standard for Internet Commerce meets four primary needs. Together these four needs make it crucial that the Commerce Standard is developed and implemented at this time. The Standard for Internet Commerce is needed:
1) To increase consumer satisfaction and confidence in doing business on the Internet by merchants and customers as a way to establish merchant credibility and trustworthiness,
2) To help merchants provide a world-class customer experience, innovate rapidly and lower their costs,
3) To support and enhance self-regulation of Internet commerce, and
4) To help merchants and customers deal with a proliferation of guidelines and symbols.