Building your e-business: Lessons from e-commerce winners

Still trying to get a handle on e-business? In this interview, Kate Maddox, coauthor of Web Commerce: Building a Digital Business, discusses how businesses can establish a foothold in online retailing.

In the book Web Commerce: Building a Digital Business, authors Kate Maddox and Dana Blankenhorn give an overview of strategies that businesses have used to make their online efforts a success.

TechRepublic recently interviewed Maddox and asked her to discuss the new e-commerce market and how businesses can make the most of their online efforts.

TechRepublic: What are the most important, useful messages or lessons that CIOs in either small or large companies can extract from your book?
Maddox: Whether your company is a multibillion-dollar enterprise, such as Cisco Systems, or a small travel business, such as Horizon Tours, setting up a Web site for the first time, you'll be faced with the same issues when it comes to establishing or expanding your Web commerce business. What are you trying to achieve? What are your business objectives? How will you integrate your Web business with existing operations?

Web Commerce gives you hands-on examples of how businesses large and small conquered the Web, the lessons they learned, and the mistakes they made. Cisco was concerned about its existing channel when it established its e-commerce site, so it created Partner Initiated Customer Access to allow resellers to give access to its online ordering system to end users. Horizon Tours initially had trouble securing a merchant ID to sell travel packages on the Web, so it changed its online strategy to sell Jamaican coffee, CDs, and spices.

While the case studies provide in-the-trenches information about how individual businesses succeeded at Web commerce, the book also provides a broad overview of everything you need to know about setting up e-commerce, from major software solutions to security issues.

TechRepublic: What are the most dramatic or substantial changes that you've seen occur in the e-business world since the publication date of your book two years ago?
Maddox: The business-to-business marketplace has exploded. Auctions are flourishing, in both the B2B and B2C arenas. E-mail marketing and viral marketing are giving businesses direct means to sell to consumers. It's a self-service economy, and the businesses that figure out how to target their messages to users with relevant, meaningful content are the ones that will succeed.
If you would like to learn more about building an online business, read our excerpt from Dana Blankenhorn and Kate Maddox’s book, Web Commerce: Building a Digital Business. If you are interested in buying a copy of the book, click here.
TechRepublic: In e-business, both small and large companies seem equally capable of making great Web sites, even though the big businesses are far more heavily capitalized. Do you see a "flattening" or closing of the gap between what small and large businesses can deliver on the Web (customer services and contact, for example) so that there's almost no distinction (at least by appearances) of who's a big company and who's a small one?
Maddox: Sure, at least by appearances. But once that flashy site is up, you've got to have the resources to support it, both on the front end and the back end. It's becoming increasingly apparent that established businesses will have an advantage in the online world.

Anyone can put up a Web site and utilize the most advanced software to create a highly sophisticated transactional environment. But to cut through the clutter, companies have to invest heavily in advertising and marketing to drive traffic to their sites and in back end support. There's a lot that can be done with inexpensive marketing, such as direct e-mail and guerrilla marketing, but the established companies have the advantage, particularly in the wake of the recent market collapse, when it comes to brand loyalty, market strength, and capitalization.

TechRepublic: You have many examples/profiles in your book of companies large and small that have gone from little or no Web experience to great expertise with the Internet. Following the publication of your book, have you been able to track or follow up on how some of the companies, i.e., Horizon Tours, Stork Site, etc., are doing today as the result of their online efforts?
Maddox: In the introduction to Web Commerce, I refer to a business executive who was looking at transaction processing software to set up his e-commerce operations. This was spring 1997, and he was just beginning to take his existing business, which deals in energy products trading, online. I recently introduced him as a speaker at eBusiness Tour, one of our conferences, to present a case study of his business. (Maddox is interactive editor for Ad Age magazine, a sponsor of eBusiness Tour.) His name is Rusty Braziel, chairman of Altra. His company handled $9 billion in online transactions last year. That's a pretty good ramp up.

TechRepublic: Are companies getting a better handle on business-to-business transactions using the Web?
Maddox: Absolutely. According to Forrester Research, B2B e-commerce in the U.S. will hit $2.7 trillion by 2004. The most successful businesses will be the ones that capitalize on Net marketplaces, which bring buyers and sellers together to transact business in a content-rich environment.
While the projections from research firms show e-commerce growing exponentially during the next few years, others are more skeptical, especially with continuing concerns over security and customer relationship management. Do you think e-commerce will ever eclipse traditional retailing? Send us your predictions in an e-mail or post your comments below.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox