E-commerce begets e-generation, but who are they?

Experts gathered here to define the identity and expectations of the budding e-generation that is poised to embrace booming Internet commerce. After much soul searching, they discovered the major players are from ... the old Baby Boomer generation?

More than the celebrated GenX cohort that defines itself in part through new media and technology, it's the old Boomers, now aged 40 to 55 years old, who will dominate e-commerce. Because of their large numbers and fat wallets, they will play a major role in the Internet economy. This was the opinion voiced by some speakers at a conference here entitled "E-Commerce for the E-Generation: Strategies for Taking E-Commerce to the Next Level."

"The baby boomers are going online and they are taking their assets with them," Dawn Lepore, chief information officer at Charles Schwab, said. "GenX will be important, but the Baby Boomers have assets to invest."

E-commerce will radically alter the level of service offered to all users of the Internet, Lepore said. "What does the e-generation want?" she asked. "They have very high expectations of service, performance and value."

But because the Internet economy is still developing, the identity of the e-generation is not yet completely formed, said Regis McKenna, chairman of technology consulting firm The McKenna Group.

"We are all trying to discover who and what this new generation is all about," McKenna said. Speed and the variety of choices offered by Internet commerce are changing the expectations of the new users, he added.

The e-generation wants choice more than brands, bargaining more than set prices, newness rather than habit, self service rather than dependence, and mobility of service rather than brick-and-mortar sales institutions, he said.

No discussion of generations would be complete without mention of a "generation gap," supplied by Bill Coleman, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of middleware software vendor BEA Systems, a sponsor of the conference.

"The e-generation gap is the difference between e-generation customer expectations and what e-business is able to deliver," Coleman said. More than 60 per cent of online shopping carts are abandoned by users before completion, a sign that online services are not serving customers well, he added.

"If they don't get what they want, one click and they (the e-generation) are gone forever," Coleman said.

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