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E-commerce and beyond
E-commerce and beyond
E-commerce has become a synonym for many types of Internet activity and one must look behind the terminology to understand properly the new types of business activity taking place.
Three areas of e-commerce are addressed in this issue of Internet Research, the first being Phau and Poon's discussion of "Factors influencing the types of products and services purchased over the Internet". Their findings, based on an empirical study of buyer activity in Singapore, classify products and services along the dimensions of financial outlay, purchase frequency, value proposition, and level of differentiation. They provide guidelines that will be essential in developing a retailing strategy that combines both online and bricks and mortar components.
"The role of human Web assistants in e-commerce" is presented by Åberg and Shahmehri. There are a number of companies that have fielded tools and services allowing Web sites to integrate human assistants into their e-commerce offerings. Yet e-commerce sites are pursuing this today on a completely intuitive (albeit well-motivated) basis. Ðberg and Shahmehri provide the first usability study of this type of interaction and a number of key lessons to be learned.
In the third e-commerce paper we have an analysis of corporate purchasers in the business to business (B2B) arena. Gattiker, Perlusz and Bohmann conduct an extensive review of B2B issues and present an equally extensive research agenda. Among the issues that have received too little attention to date, Gattiker et al. deal with transaction costs and pricing for tangible products. The paper builds on their model for understanding Internet user behaviour in industrial purchasing contexts, which may also be an effective tool for the analysis of individual consumer behaviour as well.
Moving from the world of business into academia, Applebee et al. report on the first nationwide study of a complete sector in "Australian academic use of the Internet". Unlike earlier studies that have been limited to a given organization or small geographic region, Applebee et al. have conducted a robust survey of more than 1,000 participants coming from all the universities in Australia. The results have an important role to play in understanding the effectiveness of Internet policy and usage, and will serve as an outstanding benchmark for comparison with other national studies to be conducted in the future.
In this issue's case study, Howcroft and Mitev offer an analysis of Internet usage alongside other online resources, by medical practices in the UK. Their case study looks at the experience both from the practitioner's side and from the perspective of the government initiative that has been trying to move medical practices into an online mode of operation.
Thelwall's paper on the treatment of commercial Web sites by leading search engines provides food for thought for anyone seeking to understand and enhance their organization's Web presence. In a comprehensive international study of commercial Internet domains, Thelwall finds important differences in the way search engines provide coverage of different commercial Internet domains.
Looking into the future, beyond what has quickly become "classic" e-commerce, is a highly risky proposition. However, I am prepared to venture that parallel distributed computation, one of the areas of Internet computing that has as yet been grossly underdeveloped, will soon be moving onto center stage. This area is addressed by Lo, Bloor and Choi in their paper "Parallel computing using Web servers and "servlets". I believe that one of the coming explosions in Internet infrastructure activity will be in the area of parallel distributed processes. The architecture is elegant, the algorithms are viable and once communications speeds move closer to bus speeds, the potential is immeasurable. Lo et al. provide insights into this important new area and I am sure there will more leading edge research to follow.