Online Ordering: Electronic Commerce Flourishes
Although many consumers still exhibit fear of conducting business over the Net, popular awareness continues to grow, and along with it, actual sales. Just about any company that ever sold via mail order now sells via commerce-enabled web sites Â and a lot of companies have sprung up with Web-only presences.
- Hello Direct is a vendor of telephones and telephone accessories. One of the first mail order houses to launch a site on the Web, Hello Direct now prominently features their site address throughout the catalog. At first, their web site was a pale imitation of the catalog. Now, the web site holds the complete catalog, and the print edition can evolve into a splashier rag touting new and popular products. The company saves money on printing and publishing; the customer can order from the complete collection online.
- Amazon.com is perhaps the most popular commercial site on the Web. They were by no means the first bookseller on the Net; Laura Fillmore's Open Book Systems beat them by at least a couple of years. And they aren't the last bookseller on the Net; Barnes & Noble and Borders are moving rapidly to build mindshare for their online sales branches. But Amazon has the momentum of the first mover -- and, they're good! Their site is highly navigable, their list of books in print is very complete, and they deliver the books on time as promised.
- Web auction houses such as Z Auction allow savvy customers to buy at commodity prices. Several friends have bought computer components such as hard drives -- or even entire PCs -- using these auctions services. You can find a rock bottom price. Of course, auctions have risks for foolish consumers, and I'm waiting to hear some budding psychologist declare there's a new Internet Auction Addiction Syndrome.
I co-host a television show about the Internet called "Nothin' But Net,"
and my partner, Chuck Severance, recently held up a grocery bag that heralded the
URL for Meijer, a superstore chain in the Midwest.
somewhat tongue-in-cheek that he wanted not just to read about the specials,
he wanted to order groceries.
I laughed out loud at the notion. Within two
weeks, I discovered netgrocer.com, which takes orders for staples for
delivery to your home. And chains big and small are beginning to experiment
with Web ordering and delivery of all products, including perishables.
Books, telephones, computers, clothes, groceries...and, thanks to Auto-By-Tel
and its competitors, cars. And real estate firms have been moving their
listings to the Web for a couple of years now. The question is not so
much what can you buy on the Web, but is there anything you can't buy on the
The list of useful information and commerce sites on the Net doesn't stop there:
- When I need a phone number, and I'm near a Web browser, I never use 555-1212 any more. I always use Switchboard. They work for "white pages" style lookups (where you know the name of the person or business but need the number) and they work for "yellow pages" lookups (where you know the product category but need to find a business to meet a need).
- Whenever I travel I use online travel services such as Preview Travel, travelweb.com or Expedia to find hotels, book flights and reserve rental cars. Well, to be totally truthful, the online services haven't replaced traditional print road maps and travel guides, but at this point they're a useful supplement.
- Whether I'm traveling across town or across the country, I use Mapquest to print a very localized map of the intersections I plan to visit. This has saved me from getting lost many times.
- Anyone considering buying a car can get good pricing information -- both dealer invoice pricing and used car pricing -- via services such as Edmund's Online.