Electronic commerce is the message

According to Ron Close, when e-commerce stops being the big story, then we’ll know it has become truly ingrained in society.

Close, president of Toronto-based ISP Netcom Inc., was one of five Canadian industry representatives to speak at a CEO Roundtable at Internet World, held recently in Toronto.

According to Close, whether companies are conducting commerce on-line or in more traditional venues, the essential business models don’t change all that much.

“We market our services, we get our products, we get our stories out there. So people are thinking about e-commerce, the Internet and electronic vehicles as a way of making things better, faster and cheaper, but are starting from a base of understanding fundamental business,” he said.

“As opposed to asking, ‘What’s neat about e-commerce that I can adopt and introduce into my business?’ I think the starting point should be, ‘What business am I in and where am I spending all of my money?'”

Close used telcos as an example of

companies utilizing e-commerce to stand apart from one other.

“In the telephone business, it’s sort of difficult to differentiate one dial tone from another.”

In the past, telcos have not had the greatest reputation for customer service, he said. “So that is a wild, fertile ground for the basis of

competition in that particular industry.”

Gary Simkin, vice-chairman of Shared Network Services (SNS) Inc., a transaction processing services firm in Richmond, B.C., said the Internet has given businesses of different natures the opportunity to compare notes on processes.

“I think what we will see over the next year or two is the convergence of old-age and new-age businesses starting to talk to one another,” he said.

Shahla Aly, vice-president and general manager of e-business and ERP services at IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont., said managers in organizations need to realize that e-commerce is for real and is happening right now.

“Your Internet strategy has to be entrenched in your business strategy. What the Internet allows you to do is get to the very edges,” she said. “E-business is much more than e-commerce. E-business is about using Internet technology to enable basic business processes.”

Wendy Muller, general manager of Toronto-based DoubleClick Canada Inc., an Internet advertising firm, said the challenges faced by on-line retailers include not “cannibalizing the bricks and mortar” type of operations, while at the same time merging the traditional business models with the shortened sales cycle of the Web.

Stephen Bartkiw, managing director of Toronto-based AOL Canada Ltd., said Canada is lagging behind the United States in terms of e-commerce revenue and use but this may be because there aren’t enough Canadian brand names available yet.

“As more and more merchants and retailers start to sell their wares on-line, and more Canadian, trusted brands appear on-line, those numbers will certainly grow.”

Canadian consumers are also reluctant to shop on American sites, because the exchange rates and shipping costs are often prohibitive, he said.

However, companies based here must make sure if they do business on-line that they have a distribution system in place that is able to fulfil the orders and ship them to customers.

“Instant gratification is the name of the game. So if those processes and those back-end infrastructures are not in place, then the Canadians are not going to come back. They are going to have a sour taste in their mouths as a result of that experience,” he said.

Netcom’s Close agreed Canadian retailers need to enter the e-commerce world with eyes wide open.

“We as Canadians may not be as quick to jump on the bandwagons. We may not experience the wild highs of Silicon Valley. But we might be better suited to pay attention to the things that are the fundamental cornerstones,” he said.

“That’s what’s required to harness this industry. Because the Internet is not the story here, it’s just a clever way of getting the message to the market.”