Me-commerce chaos

To balance the books somewhat, at home as much as here in the office, I thought I'd better put my wife's side of the argument about e-commerce.

To balance the books somewhat, at home as much as here in the office, I thought I'd better put my wife's side of the argument about e-commerce.

I hold the view that all companies must become e-commerce companies or die trying - my wife does not share my enthusiasm and has a number of valid points which I'll try to relate to you now.

For the record - my wife is not the nerd I am. She doesn't hang out waiting for the new WAP-enabled phones or Palm Vx, can't see the point of online gaming and would rather watch Shortland Street than surf the Net. She doesn't read science fiction and only came along to see The Phantom Menace after an embarrassing display of childishness - mostly on my part.

But she does like to shop, and that should make her the perfect end-user in all this e-commerce debate. Shopping, so I'm told, is not simply a matter of making a list, going to the store and buying those products. The problem with that model is fairly fundamental and one I'm only now learning to appreciate - my wife doesn't know what she's going to buy when she leaves the house. That's not necessarily the bad thing I thought it was - she keeps her options open and browses until she hits on something she likes.

How is your average electronic database going to accommodate that kind of behaviour, I wonder? Not very well when you consider the range of things she buys. She can be out looking for a book and come back with a CD instead or perhaps a new piece of clothing, or food or a garlic press - just about anything really. And I don't have any proof, but I would suspect that a large number of us shop like this a lot of the time. Take books, for example. I can shop at the local bookstore, or I can be efficient and shop online.

Sadly, the online experience has limited capacity for browsing and can only point me at books it already knows I like. When I'm in the shop, however, I look at an enormous range of books, from management texts to history to fiction to cooking to travel to science and back again. I can do that relatively easily, and often find books that go against the grain of my "usual" purchases.

Another problem my wife pointed out is that e-commerce is a costly business if you want to do it right. I'm not just talking about money because there are a number of sites out there that are shocking and yet cost thousands while some of the more successful are cheap and cheerful.

But the good ones all have one thing in common - they all have constantly updating content while the bad ones are usually static. Are small New Zealand companies going to have the people and resources to maintain decent content, whether it's in the form of a Web site or a database of customer usage or whatever? I'd have to say many would not cope with the requirement.

Something else to consider - the whole WAP, me-commerce, shop-till-you-drop model requires the telcos to play along and revise their pricing models somewhat dramatically. Again. That, according to my wife, could be the proverbial big ask. It would require ISPs to work with cellular phone companies to provide mobile connectivity on a grand scale all for next to no cost to the consumer. That could be a bit tricky really.

All in all she raises some valid questions, so if you have equally valid answers, let me know so I can pass them on. Please? Anyone?

Paul Brislen is a regular columnust and reporter for Computerworld. Phone him on: 0-9-302 8751. Send email to Paul Brislen.

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