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    E-commerce Fundamentals


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/1999

    Views from Arnaud Dufour, author of a French best-seller about the Internet, Que Sais-Je, which has been translated in five languages.

    Q. In your view, what does e-commerce include?

    A. Broadly defined, electronic commerce encompasses all kinds of commercial transactions that are concluded over an electronic medium, mostly the Internet.

    E-commerce covers both business-to-consumer and business-to-business transactions, and is not limited to the purchase of a product. It includes all information or services that a company may offer to its customers over the Net, from pre-purchase information to after-sale service and support.

    E-commerce can have a very profound impact on corporate strategy because it changes the way a company interacts with its customers, but also its suppliers, partners, employees or investors. E-commerce actors, competition, rules and market-space, as well as evolution speed, are different from the traditional company operating environments. Firms need to adapt and integrate the Net into their business strategy.

    Q. What are your recommendations for businesses in developing countries that want to increase their export potential using the Internet?

    A. Build your web site to serve your customers. Consider how these customers will know about or find your site. Being on the web is one thing, but it is not sufficient anymore. To be successful, one must offer a useful on-line service, but also ensure its visibility.

    The usefulness of a web site is directly related to its targets and objectives. If a web site features a product for sale, it must present the product, along with the information the customer needs to evaluate the offer, trust the manufacturer, understand the buying process and eventually buy the product either on-line or by more classical means.

    Visibility is essential for web sites. Visibility relates to the site name and to its presence in the major search engines, indexes and reference sites. Visibility depends on the content of the site, and one should use all relevant techniques to improve visibility (text, titles, keywords, etc.).

    The Internet definitely offers an opportunity for developing countries. It can open new markets for their businesses, especially for exporters which can bypass their traditional market limits, by presenting their products on the web and beginning to build new commercial relationships over the Internet.

    For more information about Internet trends in developing countries, readers may wish to view the NUA Internet Surveys by geographic area (http://www.nua.ie/surveys/index.cgi?) .

    A growing number of magazines and newspapers in developing countries are also creating web sites. See Webdo (http://www.webdo.ch/base/presse.web), which provides media lists by region.

    Arnaud Dufour is an Internet consultant based in Lausanne, Switzerland. He may be contacted at arnaud.dufour@alphis.com