The internet might be touted as the saviour of many a jaded company seeking a cheaper or faster way to do business, but be warned - the virtual rainbow be lined with gold, but it's studded with razor blades.
Elcom latched firmly onto the coat-tails of the online selling revolution earlier than most, but is now smarting as a result of its vision. E-commerce may be the way forward but the jury is still out on when exactly it's going to be more than a costly theory.
With Elcom, it's been more of an issue of jumping the gun than adopting the wrong approach to dealing with its customers. Its eagerness to plunge the virtual depths has played a role in its recent posting of disappointing first-quarter results. Despite the financial dents, Elcom is determined to continue towards Net-based nirvana.
However, not every company can afford to head down this route with such single-minded zeal and even Elcom has a lot to sort out before it can claim everything is working. Vendors such as Compaq, IBM and Hewlett Packard may be hammering on about their Net strategies, but that doesn't mean the channel is ready to follow. In fact, the channel is having problems adapting to this whole Web thing. While crafty resellers and distributors cram their menus with e-commerce, intranet and Web security services and consultancy, few practise what they preach.
A year ago, they viewed e-commerce with the scorn it deserved, but the technology and the willingness to invest by businesses has changed. As a result, they can now dazzle you with business and technical arguments for investing in the future of commerce. But they are not using it themselves, because the way people in the channel do business with each other is still rooted in the past.
We have spoken to a lot of distributors this year about their own internal online operations. While it's true that some of them have impressive Websites for their resellers to go to, not many resellers are doing business online.
In fact, most are being optimistic when they say a very small per cent of their transactions are carried out online. This is partly a fault of the distributors themselves, many of which do not offer incentives to resellers to deal with them online. However, the main problem lies with the resellers. At the end of the day, they just don't believe they can get the same deal on a Website as they can through dealings on the phone.
Like a certain Life of Brian character, resellers still believe in haggling to the end, even when there's no hope and no point. Arthur Daley would be proud to know that in this day of impersonal commercial interfaces, they are continuing the tried and tested tradition of constant chatter to negotiate a better deal. In some ways they are right - people are much easier to deal with than technology, there's a lot to be said for personal contacts and, if they're lucky, they'll call the distributor in time for some special offer or another. Then again, it's a terrible attitude for those people selling e-commerce, particularly because e-commerce is supposed to be the future.
As long as resellers believe they are not getting the best deal online and distributors are making half-hearted efforts to promote it to their resellers, e-commerce will continue to be sold to UK businesses by people who don't actually believe they work. Not the best advertisement for e-commerce there is but not the first time products have been sold without being proven first either.
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