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E-commerce

E-commerce

E-commerce (sometimes called web-based commerce) is the term used to describe the activity of doing business on the Internet. It includes business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and even consumer-to-consumer transactions that involve the buying and selling of goods and services, the transfer of funds, and even the exchange of ideas. E-commerce includes functions such as marketing, manufacturing, finance, selling, and negotiations. The phrase can also refer to downloading software, accessing games, or downloading content such as journal articles and books.

Business-to-business transactions are commonly accomplished through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). This protocol is now used by most Fortune 1,000 companies. EDI enables large organizations to transmit information over private networks; it has also found a role on corporate web sites (intranet ).

Business-to-consumer e-commerce can provide customers with convenience and access to a wide range of goods and services, while allowing businesses to reach large or unique markets. Components of business-to-consumer e-commerce include security measures, "shopping carts," payment options, and marketing.

Security

A business web site must be secure if it is going to handle financial transactions. A standard option is SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) using public key encryption , one of the strongest encryption methods available. SSL ensures that private informationsuch as passwords, credit card numbers, and customer profile datais secure and encrypted as it is transmitted. Consumers will know they are using secure sites when they see closed padlock icons on the status bars of their web browsers. Another security protocol is called SET (Secure Electronic Transactions). SET encodes the credit card numbers on a business server. Created by Visa and MasterCard, SET is very popular in the banking community.

Shopping Carts

The electronic shopping cart is a popular feature that allows consumers simply to click on a button to select one or more products for purchase. When the customer has finished shopping, the cart system allows the consumer to "check out."

Payments

Various payment options exist to facilitate business-to-consumer e-commerce. These include digital or electronic cash, electronic wallets, and micropayments.

Digital or Electronic Cash (E-cash).

With digital cash, a consumer can pay for goods or services by transmitting a number. The numbers, similar to those on a dollar bill, are issued by a bank and represent specific sums of real money. Key features of digital cash are that it is anonymous and it can be reused, just like real cash. Various forms of e-cash have been around for awhile but consumers seem to prefer to use their credit cards. Federal laws provide credit card users the right to dispute any payments charged to their cards and limit theft losses to $50.

Electronic Wallets.

These "wallets" store credit card numbers on personal computers in encrypted forms. Consumers can make purchases using their credit cards at web sites that support one of these wallets. A secure transaction is created by the electronic wallet company's server.

Micropayments.

These transactions are in amounts up to $10, usually made in order to download or gain access to games or graphics. This method of paying for online content is not as widespread as others.

Marketing

Because e-commerce allows businesses to reach a worldwide market and to compete around the globe, creative marketing and promotion of a web site is crucial to the success of an Internet-based business. This must be balanced with sound business practices, however. Although many of the dot.com businesses that were heavily marketed to consumers during the late 1990s and into the new millenium managed to acquire good name recognition, a significant number were unable to stay in business, in part because they failed to provide the level of service consumers had been led to expect.

E-Commerce vs. Traditional Commerce

The Internet has changed the nature and structure of competition. In the past, most businesses had to compete within a single industry (such as groceries) and often within a specific geographic area, but the Internet is blurring those boundaries. An example is Amazon.com. The company began as an online bookstore but quickly expanded into new products and markets such as music, videos, home improvement supplies, zShops (used music, books, etc.), and even the auction business. Through the Internet, customers can purchase products from virtually anywhere in the world.

A traditional business may have large overhead costs associated with maintaining a storefront. But a web-based business does not necessarily have that type of overhead, which may mean that continued growth becomes easier. With e-commerce, businesses can move more quickly and usually less expensively to reach a worldwide audience. For example, the cost of reaching a consumer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the same as reaching one in Clifton, Colorado.

An important difference between traditional business and e-commerce is the elimination of the middleman, known as disintermediation . Businesses and consumers can communicate directly to carry out transactions, which can help entrepreneurs market their products or services without the cost of salespeople or product representatives. Although e-commerce is still a developing part of the economy, some people believe that traditional stores and mail-order companies may eventually go out of business. Other observers believe that traditional and electronic commerce will find new ways to work together.

Despite some consumer wariness, due in part to reports of hackers breaking into allegedly secure web sites and downloading credit card information, businesses have found that financial transactions on the Internet can actually be more secure than in traditional retail environments. Much credit card fraud is caused by store employees who mishandle card numbers. Most consumers do not seem to realize their credit card numbers are vulnerable every time they hand their cards to waiters, place orders by phone, or toss out receipts. The encryption of card numbers for online transactions protects both the consumer and the business from credit card fraud.

Finally, the Internet is revolutionizing competition in the area of pricing. At any point, a business may choose to simply give away a service, free of charge, that others sell. One example was when Microsoft began to include a "free browser" with Windows software. Such businesses generate income through other means, such as by selling ads or products and services related to the give-away item. Such strategies can help business attract customers. In addition, when "products" do not require manufacturing and packaging, as is the case with software downloaded via the Internet by a user, the reduction in business costs can be passed on to customers.

The Influence of the Internet

Research by Jupiter Media Metrix showed that 13.4 million households banked online from July 2000 to July 2001, a 77.6 percent increase in one year alone. In late 2001 Jupiter predicted online sales would reach $104 billion in 2005.

Statistics aside, the Internet has made strong inroads into the lives of people in virtually all demographic groups. Computer businesses, telephone companies, cable retailers, Internet providers, public libraries, and even coffeehouses have made Internet access available to almost anyone. School children are taught how to access the Internet, but so are patrons of libraries, community centers, and senior citizen centers. Readily available Internet access has opened the door wide for the world of e-commerce.

The Future of E-Commerce

Many analysts believe that e-commerce will reshape the business world. Some predict that the huge growth of virtual communitiespeople getting together in ad hoc interest groups onlinepromises to shift the balance of economic power from the manufacturer to the consumer, eroding the marketing and sales advantages of large companies. A small company with a higher quality product and better customer service can use these communities to challenge larger competitorssomething it might not be able to do in the traditional world of commerce.

Non-business organizations are using lessons learned in the early years of e-commerce. An example of what the future may hold is "eduCommerce," a concept combining online course offerings with advertising content. Some experts believe that universities may eventually face stiff competition from organizations that offer their courses at no charge, counting on sales generated from ads to make their profits and draw new customers. Other forms of e-commerce will surely emerge as consumers explore the vast reaches of doing business via the Internet.

see also Internet; Intranet; World Wide Web.

Melissa J. Harvey

Bibliography

May, Paul. Business of E-commerce. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Shapiro, Carl, and Hal Varian. Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

Shaw, Michael. Handbook on Electronic Commerce. Berlin: Springer, 2000.

Standing, Craig. Internet Commerce Development. Boston: Artech House, 2000.

Internet Resources

Varian, Hal. "Commerce." School of Information Management and Systems, University of California, Berkeley. <http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/resources/infoecon/Commerce.html>

Web Commerce Today. Wilson Internet. <http://www.wilsonweb.com/wct/>

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e-commerce

e-commerce, commerce conducted over the Internet, most often via the World Wide Web. E-commerce can apply to purchases made through the Web or to business-to-business activities such as inventory transfers. A customer can order items from a vendor's Web site, paying with a credit card (the customer enters account information via the computer) or with a previously established "cybercash" account. The transaction information is transmitted (usually by modem) to a financial institution for payment clearance and to the vendor for order fulfillment. Personal and account information is kept confidential through the use of "secured transactions" that use encryption technology (see data encryption).

In an effort to further the development of e-commerce, the federal Electronic Signatures Act (2000) established uniform national standards for determining the circumstances under which contracts and notifications in electronic form are legally valid. Legal standards were also specified regarding the use of an electronic signature ( "an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record" ), but the law did not specify technological standards for implementing the act. The act gave electronic signatures a legal standing similar to that of paper signatures, allowing contracts and other agreements, such as those establishing a loan or brokerage account, to be signed on line.

Once consumers' worries eased about on-line credit card purchases, e-commerce grew rapidly in the late 1990s. In 1998 on-line retail ( "e-tail" ) sales were $7.2 billion, double the amount in 1997. On-line retail ordering represented 15% of nonstore sales (which included catalogs, television sales, and direct sales) in 1998, but this constituted only 1% of total retail revenues that year. Books are the most popular on-line product order—with over half of Web shoppers ordering books (one on-line bookseller, Amazon.com, which started in 1995, had revenues of $610 million in 1998)—followed by software, audio compact discs, and personal computers. Other on-line commerce includes trading of stocks, purchases of airline tickets and groceries, and participation in auctions.

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e-commerce

e-commerce (e-business) In general, commerce using electronic media. Usually it is taken to mean commerce using the Internet, for sale of goods and services. Internet trading has expanded considerably over the last decade, with the creation of many companies that only trade online (often known as dot-com companies). Other commercial organizations have a combination of traditional trading with a significant amount of Internet acitivity (sometimes referred to as bricks-and-clicks or clicks-and-mortar). See also e-money.

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e-commerce

e-com·merce • n. commercial transactions conducted electronically on the Internet.

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E-Commerce

E-COMMERCE

E-COMMERCE. SeeElectronic Commerce .

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