No E-Commerce Whining in 2001!

Hopefully, the major players in e-commerce have already made their most important resolutions — No. 1 being to survive another year — but I’d like to request one final promise.

No whining in 2001.

That means no complaining when the media focuses on the dust-and-rubble of the shakeout rather than the gains quietly being made in the other direction. And no grumbling when analysts poke holes in rosy long-range projections.

But most of all, it means growing up and learning to take the lumps that are likely to come fast and furious again this year.

The Blame Game

The many year-end news reports on the dot-com shakeout of 2000 starting running latelast week. In a way, they were typical of holiday news programming — recaps of what everyone already knows. But a major component of the pieces examined who was to blame for the spectacular rise and fall of dot-coms.

Naturally, everyone pointed a finger at someone else, from analysts, to venture capitalists, to dot-com layoff victims, to forlorn entrepreneurs, and even to an investor who wins the welcome-to-reality award for what he told CNNabout his Priceline shares: “One day the money was there, and the next day it was gone.”

All the finger-pointing reflected rather badly on the Internet space in general, with no one willing to take responsibility. Unfortunately, that sort of gamehas been a pattern in the high-tech world.

Bully Pulpits

Microsoft was the pincushion for a long time. Now, it’s America Online, which has already been accused of hijacking instant messaging technology and now may find itself a target after announcing that AOL members made as much as 70 percent of all U.S. online purchases during the holidays.

Yes, AOL will make friends with that clout, but enemies as well — the people who get shut out of deals and links, and the people who complain that AOL controls too much Internet traffic and is throwing its muscle around, to name just a few. Microsoft must be smiling to itself about now.

It’s the Kid’s Fault

Sometimes it seems as if casting blame is what the dot-com world is all about. But the blame game only works over the short term.

People tried to turn the denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on high-profile Web sites by a 16 year-old Canadian into the crime of one millennium or the other. The kid is now out on bail, working full-time and facing little more than some time in a juvenile detention center. The outcry over his crimes has long since run out of steam.

Blaming Mafiaboy worked for a while. Law enforcement searched for him, long enough to take the heat off the sites that buckled under the weight of his attacks. Eventually, Mafiaboy was caught.

Analyst Wars

Other targets of blame have been stock analysts. The analysts have indeed acted badly. They took turns, along with greedy investors and others, in blowing up the e-commerce balloon — then ran for cover instead of standing their ground when the balloon burst and the shakeout took hold.

To be sure, ignoring the analysts is not the answer. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ most memorable photo op of last year came when he waved an imaginary US$1 billion bill to show how much cash the company had. Bezos knows that analysts affect stock prices, which in turn affect investor loyalty and the ability to find and keep good employees — or prevent those you already have from unionizing.

On the other hand, blaming the analysts isn’t the answer, either. And those dot-com companies whose stocks bombed last year are a little too quick to point the finger of blame back at analysts.

It’s a Fine Line

Ultimately, answering analyst criticisms with fact or action is different from complaining about the criticisms, and e-commerce needs to accept this difference.

It’s not a bold prediction, but I bet there will be plenty of criticism and plenty of compliments coming to e-commerce in the new year. If it’s going to be taken seriously in this year and those to come, e-commerce needs to learn to address its flaws maturely, taking criticism as well as it takes the compliments.

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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