Web will empower all consumers

The Web is embracing all people, even those not yet on-line, according to Colleen Moorehead.

Moorehead, president and CEO of E*TRADE Canada, said the Internet has created a new attitude in commerce, both on-line and off.

She noted consumers can use the Internet as a research tool to educate themselves about products and services, and can use this knowledge to get the best deal through whatever channel will deliver it.

“It’s much easier for you to compare, and because you can compare you can present information directly to the retailer,” Moorehead said. “That’s why I look at it from a democratization perspective. It will drive prices down, even in the bricks and mortar world. It will make people better retailers.”

At a recent Toronto conference, entitled The Future of Technology, she told the group about her own experience shopping for faucets.

After researching faucets on the Web and price comparing, she went into her local hardware store and said “Here’s what I need and here is what I will pay for it.”

“They matched the price,” she said in a later interview. “I’m buying this. I know what I’m talking about. I know the product and I know where I can get it for this price. It really does push, and most companies will be sensitive to that.”

Fellow speaker John Wetmore, president and CEO of IBM Canada, said one very exciting aspect of the future and the Internet is the empowerment it will deliver for some people.

“Imagine a bio sensor on your wrist so you can check yourself out physically every morning,” Wetmore said. “The possibilities are only constrained by our imaginations.”

Brain Drain

However, both speakers pointed out a downside to Canada’s technology future – our ongoing danger of losing more people to the U.S. Wetmore noted the skills gap is closing between the two countries, and Canadians are getting more offers every day.

“It’s forcing us to create a much better environment for employees, and we are always working on retention,” he said.

Moorehead placed much of the blame for the brain drain on the tax gap between the two countries. “We lose developers…not every day, but we lose them to the U.S. They’re going for more money and stock options,” she explained. “They’re getting offers from organizations that can afford to pay them. And the reason those organizations can afford to pay them is that they are in a different environment from a tax perspective.”

She added that Canadians generally want to stay in Canada, but the money is too big an incentive for most to reject.

“The way to solve that is to make Canada more competitive…to have the same effective tax rates as there are in the U.S.”

Moorehead pointed to a recent Ontario tax cut as a step in the right direction, but added the gap is still big and American companies are going out of their way to bring Canadian talent south.

One shift in Canada’s favour, however, is the loosening of the venture capital (VC) purse strings, Moorehead said.

“As VC money is available then people can fund their businesses better. In the past it wasn’t just sweat equity that drove us, we wanted to change the world and we were willing to trade sweat equity, but under that you still needed capitalization.”

She also suggested Canadian businesses needed to keep up their competitive advantage and speed.

Wetmore agreed, noting, “From a Canadian point of view, we just have to make sure the train doesn’t leave the station without us.”