Business as Usual

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that only a few years ago, selling products online was rare for most retailers and a downright impossibility for some. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a merchant who doesn’t run some kind of e-commerce operation.

How the “virtual” store integrated with traditional business, eventually with so much success as to seem almost indistinguishable from the latter, is the theme of “The Merchant Speaks,” a wide-ranging study of Web commerce conducted in first-quarter 2004 by Chicago’s the e-tailing group inc. The report provides a wealth of data and observations from more than 300 senior e-commerce executives. The most notable finding is that 87% of the sites surveyed are integrated into the overall business, and the researchers predict that “e-commerce tasks will further meld into corporate organizations for better efficiency and multichannel integration.” Bottom-line results are a priority: 84% of the respondents report that senior management is satisfied with the ROI from online projects.

Inevitably, challenges persist. Many sites remain bogged down by outdated technology, lack of integration and scalability, and clumsy navigation tools; 46% of site changes are still done manually; and only 3% are personalized. The average rate of shopping cart abandonment continues sky-high, at just over 40%. Performance measurement is more sophisticated but still far from systematic. For example, although 77% of respondents recognize the value of upsells and cross-sells, 57% do not know the percentage of revenue that these activities contribute to their business.

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