Traditions apply to e-commerce, panel says

The burgeoning growth of e-commerce is changing the nature of business operations, but some fundamentals, including customer service and efficiency, still apply, a panel of experts said at an e-commerce forum on Tuesday.

"As more and more customers come online, one of the things that could really screw companies up is to fail to deliver what they promise," George Aposporos, vice president of business development for Amazon.com, said during the forum sponsored by the Churchill Club, a not-for-profit Silicon Valley organisation that provides a forum for IT-related discussions.

Old-fashioned customer service makes all the difference between success or failure for companies doing business online, according to Aposporos.

"The web brings the buyer and seller closer together, and sounds very efficient," he said. "But there is many a slip between cup and lip."

Businesses will need to be vigilant in traditional ways in order to maximize efficiency to meet the demands brought about by the speed of the Internet, said Laurie Tucker, senior vice president of logistics and e-commerce for Federal Express Corp.

"The Internet has provided a vehicle of connectivity that is going to be simple and inexpensive, and will spawn whole new business models," Tucker said. "E-commerce is really about reorganising the entire supply chain of companies."

To succeed, "companies will have to seek out optimised business models," she said.

One expert warned that classic economic competition will drive some companies out of business and possibly hurt speculative investors.

"We are in a rare time of opportunity in the Internet, but there are things out there that are extremely speculative," said Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark Capital in Menlo Park, California, an IT investment firm. "The only way for it (speculation) to go away is for something very ugly to happen to consumers."

Online businesses should also be concerned about government regulation, said John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology at IBM.

In an effort to forestall heavy-handed regulations spurred by concerns that customers' privacy rights are being violated by web sites, IBM announced on March 31 that it was pulling its advertisements from any site that did not post clear privacy policies.

"We know that regulating the Internet is like trying to regulate the wind, but that doesn't stop politicians from trying," Patrick said. "We don't want regulation. It will slow down the growth of the Internet."

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