After some initial uncertainty on the part of consumers, e-commerce will finally live up to its hype as a viable alternative to traditional retail outlets. According to Boston Consulting Group, last year's e-commerce revenues were up an amazing 230 percent from 1997, and during the 1998 Christmas season, consumers flocked to e-commerce sites in record numbers.
But despite the relative ease of setting up an e-commerce site, businesses are still adjusting to the brave new world of selling on the Net, says Bob Frankenberg, CEO of Encanto Networks Inc., a Santa Clara, California, provider of e-commerce solutions. "The Internet is a totally new medium," says Frankenberg. "So learning how to generate awareness and interest for those participating is a bit like learning how to do advertising for the first time. It isn't necessarily true that if you build it, they will come."
Small e-commerce businesses will also benefit from the sheer growth of the Internet itself. IDC Research predicts that the number of e-commerce customers will increase from 18 million in 1997 to more than 128 million by 2002. In other words, a bigger pie will dish up more slices for anyone who comes to the table.
Judging by the tremendous advances of the decade past, the opening years of the 21st century will be marked by a never-ending stream of technological marvels, as well as the continued growth of high-tech sectors and the Internet. But far more interesting and exciting than the technology itself is the application of that technology--how it will be used by businesses and consumers to improve profitability and the quality of life. And that is something no one can predict.