Resolutions for Extending the E-Commerce Revolution

By the time the dust settles from New Year’s Day, it may well be gut-check time for the e-commerce industry.

Even those companies that manage to see growth in what is shaping up to be a rather timid holiday season will have their hands full with the task of sifting through the returns to see if a profit is in the tea leaves.

Regardless of the results of 2001, e-commerce, just like all of us, can turn over a new leaf by making a few simple resolutions for 2002. These can be made to help ensure that consumers will come back strong once the economy improves and they are good and ready.

Do the Right Thing

First, e-commerce companies should resolve to tackle the tough issues that seem unsolvable. This doesn’t mean that by year’s end they will have found solutions to the perpetually vexing problems of security, privacy and shipping. But those issues should at least be on the table.

The push for strong self-regulation on the privacy and security fronts has been on the back burner for some time now, thanks to a more business-friendly U.S. administration and new spending priorities. Now it is time for key players within e-commerce to turn the gas back up.

The top players are leaders for a reason, and they should be clamoring to show their true colors.

They should resolve to step out front and show the industry why they are dominant. They should promise to write clearer privacy policies or create a clearinghouse where every hacker breach could be tracked. Above all, they should not sit still, and should do something.

We already know there are no quick fixes. But even long-term solutions have to start somewhere.

Pick a Yardstick

E-commerce sites also need to resolve to be measurable in a meaningful, real-time way. Yes, individual companies have plenty of valid reasons why they can’t disclose sales on a day-to-day basis.

But the current methods of temperature-taking, ranging from polling small focus groups to tracking unique visitors, is creating a confusing message both inside the industry and, maybe more importantly, among the general public.

Does that matter? Maybe not all that much, but people like certainty. Just ask retailers who are begging, mostly unsuccessfully, for consumers to spend money right now despite the clouded economic outlook.

Stop Pandering

E-commerce companies grew up in a unique environment. In the early days, before they were all about customer service, they were all about Wall Street. Their stock prices were stand-ins for their own successes and failures.

But it’s one thing to crave the approval of analysts and institutional investors. It’s another thing to be a slave to that appetite.

E-commerce can’t turn its back on Wall Street. But companies with aspirations of leadership should get into a 12-step program of sorts and slowly move a more comfortable distance away — to a place where they can be as much about customer service as they are about their 52-week moving averages.

Have Fun

The year 2001 provided everyone with a healthy dose of perspective. From those cast off from high-paying jobs in the “new economy” to those affected directly or indirectly by the events of September 11th, the giddy mood of not-so-long-ago seems like ancient history.

But that should only make us realize how lucky we are to be pursuing something as ambitious as the revolution — or more appropriately, as it now seems, the evolution — of e-commerce. Let’s resolve to remember that, too.

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

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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