By Joshua Lucas

Issue # 14

Thursday, June 11 1998


E-commerce (the act of selling products over the Internet) is beginning to move its way into mainstream acceptance. Evidence of this varies from the success of sites like to the latest commercials from companies like Hewlett-Packard and IBM. No longer are technology commericals just shown between Tony Robbins infomercials. Now they show up during prime-time and people are beginning to notice. Analysts estimate that in the next two years, e-commerce is going to explode into a at least a $2 billion a year industry.

Unfortunately, most experts overlook the small business owners and only concentrate on the mega-sites such, CDNow, and others who are making money from selling products over the web.

It is too bad that more emphasis isn't made for the smaller business. The Internet levels the playing field, allowing smaller businesses to compete against big ones, but in many ways it's more of a challenge to prepare a small business for electronic commerce.

Most of the larger companies like IBM or HP can offer packaged solutions for any business. In fact, IBM now has some excellent, cost-effective small business solutions in place at

The problem is that some of the "larger" solutions can be very expensive and might require a significant amount of redesign time as well as site rearchtecting. Not only that, but some design firms will either not have the ability to use these solutions or would charge too much to make it worthwhile.

It's a good idea to talk to web design firms to compare the benefits and weaknesses inherent in a "packaged solution" (such as the kind available at IBM). Some design firms might already have their own solutions they can offer. While these services might not have all of the bells and whistles that other companies offer, it may still do the job without breaking your bank.

Besides being potentially expensive to set-up and run monthly, e-commerce can also be impractical. If you are not currently equipped to fufill orders from various parts of the country as well as the world then you might want to think twice before offering your visitors a chance to order your products over the web. A lot of research is needed to iron out distribution problems, state or provincial taxes, and the ever-present threat of duties for cross-border shipping. Nothing will stop visitors from coming to your site quicker than an unfulfilled order.

"Lucas, Joshua Lucas". . .writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognizable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstroms. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.

Assignment - Can you handle the two challenges? Have you talked with your design firm about how they work with e-commerce? If not, find out. And what about your staff and supplies? Could you handle filling orders every day from various parts of the globe?

And don't forget to keep sending me topics you'd like to learn more about!

Most customers are still relatively leary about ordering things via the 'Net so it is a big deal when they do. Don't compound their worries by not being ready to handle their order, or adding "hidden charges" to the bill to cover costs you didn't expect. Know your limitations when it comes to order fulfillment. Make sure you have the necessary staff and supplies to handle shipping things every day.

In no way is this article a deterrent for small businesses to use electronic commerce. In fact, I think the small business can be more successful at using e-commerce than the mega-site because they can add a layer of personal touch to each order. But the reality is that the small business owner faces challenges which should be taken into consideration.

NEXT: How a small business can best use e-commerce within their site.

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