Can E-Commerce Fill In the Blank?

First, a little interactive quiz. And don’t worry, there are no wrong answers. Just fill in this blank: What the e-commerce world needs now is ________.

There are myriad possible answers. Respect. A new way of getting products from warehouse to doorstep. More customers. Another killer application. A stock market that doesn’t make you cry.

But what’s lacking most right now in the e-commerce world is leadership. The blank that most needs to be filled, is the leadership void.

I don’t just mean a firm that stands above the rest in its industry. We have a few of those. I mean a dot-com that has the guts to do what everyone says not to.

E-commerce needs a company willing to expand.

Show Me the Money, Too

Yes, I know that expansion requires capital and no one is funding the quest for rapid growth anymore.

So we actually need two types of leaders. We need business leadership and funding leadership.

But if those two forces were to come together and “zig” when everyone else is screaming “zag,” it could have powerful results.

That’s the Rub

Right now, the word on the lips of every e-tailer and portal and online media firm is “slowdown.” But everyone insists it’s only a temporary lull, and that the long-range growth of the Web, e-commerce and online advertising is almost a certainty.

So why doesn’t someone act like that’s the case? Here we are facing what everyone, even some dour economists, say is just a brief pause before additional economic growth, and still everyone is running for cover.

What if just one company found just one financial backer with the courage to go against the grain?

Reverse Lane

I’m talking about adding services in cities while others pull back to serve markets closest to profitability. Or adding products while others drop them. Or hiring rapidly and expanding distribution networks while others lock up their warehouses.

Yes, it’s risky. But guess what? It’s also risky to be a sheep at the back of the herd, following along dutifully. What if the bellwether is going off a cliff?

I realize that the evidence of a slowdown is strong, and that everyone has the same evidence and that, indeed, the fortunes of everyone in technology are tied together in a symbiotic Web. All that makes across-the-board cuts and reductions seem logical.

But since when has the e-commerce world been about doing the logical thing?

Swimming Upstream

Why go against the grain? Because you’ll be a buyer when everyone is selling. Those employees that were impossible to find a year ago? They’re out there in growing numbers now. In a year they may all be spoken for again. The costs of adding infrastructure, opening offices? All down in times like these.

And think of the impact that this type of leadership would have. All those fill-in-the-blanks at the beginning of this column might just materialize.

How about confidence? Those of us who follow the business world closely know that it doesn’t take much to turn a gloomy outlook positive. A sudden burst of venture financing alone can make it seem like the long winter has begun to thaw.

Imagine the impact just one company could have if it were to put out word that it plans to accelerate growth. Consumers, investors — they might all start to take a different view.

Once and Future

How about new products and innovative ideas? They’re still out there in down times, but who pays attention or more importantly, who pulls out the checkbook to back them?

The venture capitalists do. They don’t do so very much right now, but they still can.The VCs have cash, but it’s not getting distributed because there are no IPOs and few public companies that are inspiring. Start generating some noise again and watch the money flow.

The fact is that things will turn around, eventually. But the winter may be longer and darker than we can imagine unless someone starts to lead us toward the light.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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