Global E-Commerce Picking Up Steam

Many American Internet users still perceive life with borders. However, if any one message is coming through loud and clear, it might be to “think bigger.”

Countries of all stripes are gearing up their own electronic commerce operations, and it may soon be commonplace for Americans to shop for products from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and perhaps even Russia.

The following is just a sampling of recent international developments in online business:

United Kingdom: British Telecommunications unveiled an online comparative shopping service that lets users compare products, prices and brands from 21 categories offered by UK and U.S. retailers. More than 70 retailers are already on board, including such familiar names as Tower Records and CD Zone.

Australia: The Internet Industry Association is offering Australian e-commerce firms a special insurance policy that helps limit their liabilities in what many in the country consider to be high-risk online commerce ventures.

Malaysia: The Deputy Prime Minister launched a new service that provides a communications data network infrastructure that can be used to set up online stores and virtual communities in Penang and northern Malaysia.

Thailand: The Justice Ministry has a bill ready for consideration by the House of Representatives that would endorse electronic transactions and give legal ground for electronic signatures. The bill would also allow business partners to use electronic documents instead of paper documents.

Italy: Political leader Massino D’Alema says the government has prepared a proposal to offer financial incentives to small and large businesses that invest in the Internet. Nearly $200 million (US$) of financial aid would go toward business-to-business Internet commerce.

Taiwan: Quietly readying itself for a major foray into e-commerce, Taiwan’s leading PC maker, Acer, has introduced “I-Station” Web companion devices that will allow users to conduct online transactions. Also, Taiwan’s KEYciti, a Chinese language community site, is in development with Ezyfind, a network of community sites, to launch Web sites for Chinese communities. The portal will have e-commerce functionality, even though online commerce is still in the early stages in Asia.

Russia: Last week, the “E-Commerce 99” conference took place in St. Petersburg. Reportedly, the conference explored business models for e-commerce, e-shops, e-commerce software and logistics and infrastructure of e-commerce. Further, setting a decidedly capitalistic tone, a session was devoted to Internet marketing and payment systems.

The World Stage

While Europe and Asia are the focus of much e-commerce activity at the moment, International Data Corporation says that Latin America is the next ‘big thing’ in international e-commerce.

In fact, online commerce in the area is projected to top $8 billion by the end of 2003. Computer prices, once comparatively high, are coming down, and impediments to online access are being aggressively addressed.

Meanwhile, MasterCard International has formed a Global Mobile Commerce Team to converge credit card payments and mobile telephony industries worldwide. In a sign that wireless e-commerce is now a force to be reckoned with, MasterCard’s aim is to facilitate online purchases from any location at any time.

World Impact

What does this world e-business activity add up to? For consumers, it could mean that the world community is consolidating and for the first time becoming fully accessible to individual shoppers.

For e-businesses, it could mean broader target markets, multi-cultural sales potential, and the chance to influence sales efforts in markets it never before considered viable.

For various governments, it may reinforce the need to leapfrog over regulations that limit foreign investment in their markets.

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