From share trading to shopping, e-commerce is sure to have a massive impact on life in the 21st century, allowing businesses to trade with customers around the world. By Sue Weekes
What is it?
The umbrella term for any business conducted electronically via the Internet. It covers everything from on-line share trading and banking to shopping at an on-line supermarket. Some e-businesses are extensions of existing businesses while others only exist on-line. An NOP survey conducted in August 1999 predicts that e-commerce in Britain will reach £9.5bn this year.
The story so far
The Internet was created 30 years ago but it took the development of the World Wide Web, a graphical user interface created by Tim Berners-Lee 10 years ago, for the world at large to exploit its potential. Arguably, the perfect model for an Internet business is still to be discovered, but many cite the best working example as the on-line bookseller Amazon, set up in 1995 by American Jeff Bezos. Despite being lauded as a success, like many Net businesses, it still runs at a loss.
While 1999 was the year that saw a mass of high-profile businesses establish their on-line presences, it was, more significantly for the long-term future of e-commerce, the year that the public was given the option of free Internet access, spearheaded by the Dixons-owned Freeserve, now the UK's biggest Internet Service Provider (ISP). This meant Internet users no longer have to pay a subscription to get access to the Internet although they still have to pay telecommunications companies for the time spent on-line. However, even this is changing with a number of deals being struck with ISPs and telecoms companies that sees discounted and even free call charges to the Net at certain times of day.
While there is still a lack of consumer confidence over issues such as security, sophisticated encryption techniques for sending transactional data over the Net are helping to break down this barrier to e-commerce. Targeted marketing by companies such as Egg and Marbles, whose credit cards come with a special Internet guarantee, is also helping.
Sixteen million European users started using the Web this year, says independent research company Forrester, and a report by NOP found that 1.5 million adults in the UK used the Web in the four weeks to June 1999 to purchase products or services, spending £239m in the process.
"Britain will see its economic pote