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The Next E-Commerce Hurdle

By Paul A. Greenberg
Nov 15, 1999 12:00 AM PT

"If you build it, they will come" may be true for baseball, but when it comes to e-commerce, it's how long it takes customers to get to what you build that really matters.

The Next E-Commerce Hurdle

Research from various sources indicates that once the online buying experience becomes too cumbersome and slow, would-be customers log off. And, since there are already enough obstacles presenting themselves to e-tailers, slow access is the last thing they need.

The Fast Lane

E-tailers are finding that ensuring adequate capacity to handle high traffic is no longer a bridge to cross "once we get to it."

Even if an e-tailer has gone to great lengths to provide a quality shopping experience, success or failure may come down to bandwidth, the measure of how fast information travels per second.

It's all about speed and efficiency, and right now, many companies are making their mark simply by helping people pick up the pace of their online experience.

Major Players

This week, BellSouth initiated digital subscriber line (DSL) services to 30 cities in the southeastern United States. By the end of the year, the company plans to have the capacity to service seven million DSL phone lines, and that number is expected to grow to 11.5 million by the end of 2000.

The service offers residential and small business customers broadband connection speeds starting at $50 (US$) a month.

Also this week, EarthLink Network, Inc. introduced DSL service nationwide at the same price.

Meanwhile, Lucent Technologies claims to have come up with technology that uses microscopic mirrors to allow the world's largest communications carriers to boost their long distance capacities up to 10 times the current Internet speeds. Lucent asserts that the technology will save service providers 25 percent in operational costs, due to reduced power needs.

Sigh Of Relief

Fast access Internet service comes just in time for some e-tailers who have lived in fear of traffic surges that might impede their customers' online experience. As e-tailers feel their way through the new world of online commerce, certain patterns are becoming evident.

For example, Web traffic increases as the day goes on, with heaviest usage in the middle of the day. There are, of course, variations based on what types of goods and services a site sells and what types of shoppers a site attracts.

Armed with that knowledge, e-tailers are doing everything they can to keep up with demand. Step one is the customer's ability to click and run. Delays in connecting or purchasing are proving unacceptable to a majority of shoppers. As eBay, and E*TRADE have found out the hard way recently, the ability to handle a traffic surge is the key to a smooth operation.

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