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Taking Your Business to the Net If you're getting sick of the same old business ideas, then it's time to go online. The robust e-commerce market is hotter than ever, and it just may be the cure for what ails you.

By Heather Clancy

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

According to any given expert, e-commerce sites have grabbed the same share of retail sales it took catalog companies nearly a century to achieve. While business and technology market-research analysts like Jupitermedia admit online sales account for a relatively modest piece of the retail market at roughly 2 percent, the medium has become invaluable for researching purchases. By 2008, Jupitermedia predicts 30 percent of all retail sales will be influenced by the time consumers spend online.

Another proof point: For the fourth quarter of 2004-retail's biggest season-eMarketer, a source for research, data and analysis on e-business, anticipated a 27.4 percent year-over-year jump in online sales to more than $22.3 billion, excluding travel or auction transactions. If you're wondering just how much more potential exists, online auction powerhouse eBay facilitated $8.3 billion in goods traded in the third quarter of 2004, according to a recent financial report.

Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst for eMarketer, cites the "democratization of the retail world" as a primary impetus. For one thing, he says, the online buyer is morphing away from the original stereotype: an upper-middle-class male in his late 20s or early 30s. "It's going much more mainstream," Grau notes. "You're finding that more ethnic minorities are going online. [People in] more rural areas are going online."

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