Hot Stuff

.The Internet?

What would a discussion of future trends be without a good, hard look at how the Internet has shaped our business lives?

While teens, boomers, babies and others are making their own indelible marks on today's business landscape, perhaps no other factor has had as colossal an influence in shaping the business trends of both now and the future as the Internet has. The explosive growth of e-commerce over the past few short years has forever changed the way the world does business.

The business-to-business sector will remain at the forefront of e-commerce in 2000, and probably well beyond. According to information technology research firm Forrester Research, business-to-business e- commerce will explode from $43 billion in 1998 to $1.3 trillion in 2003, accounting for 9.4 percent of total U.S. business sales. Key industries leading the way: computing and electronics, motor vehicles and petrochemicals.

Affiliate marketing services and opt-in e-mail marketing services are two leading and potentially lucrative business-to-business e-commerce opportunities popping up on our radar screen. Online auction sites, put on the map by eBay, uBid and others, are also grabbing plenty of attention. "Online auctions have unlimited [business-opportunity] potential," says Ben Isaacson, executive director of the Association for Interactive Media. It would appear so: The online auction industry is expected to reach $52 billion by 2002.

On the consumer front, e-tailers will hear ch-ching! ch-ching! as online sales jump even higher next year. According to Forrester, Web sales to consumers will surpass $143 billion in 2003, up from $7.8 billion in 1998. By then, more than 40 million households will buy at least some products or services online.

In 2000, consumers will want to buy more types of items and spend more money online, say experts. The Wal-Marts of the online world like Amazon.com, Tower Records, Egghead and, yes, Wal-Mart, will greatly expand their product categories-and influence. But it will also be a strong year for smaller e-retailers. By sinking money into online and traditional marketing and becoming savvier in the art of e-tailing, many of these niche marketers will finally see a big payoff, Isaacson says. He adds, "Anything women- and home-oriented is going to be a really big seller."

While the future looks bright for the wide world of e-commerce, we offer a few words of caution. Although many Internet businesses boast low start-up costs, especially for the tech-savvy who can do it all themselves, becoming a nationally recognized online leader requires spending a lot of money and effort on advertising, market research and customer relationship-building. As with any business, online or off, the ticket to success is bought with hard work

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hot Stuff.

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