PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

nternet Shopping and Ecommerce: what happened..?
July 2001

Let’s analyse why the dotcom boom has gone so pear shaped; it’s quite revealing and suggests that what we have seen to date is only a phoney war anyway, and that the present round of burials may well be proved to have been too hasty. Then there’s the “banker factor” (BF) to consider – the high proportion of investment bankers and advisers that flocked around the early dotcom cash pots is also significant – these people for the most part have never run a real business in their lives, especially in the realm of consumer marketplaces. So let’s not dismiss the entire genre because of a disparate collection of hooray Henrys and immature MBA students that knew how to talk the talk, but had no clue as to how to walk the walk.

Sadly, the BF also polluted a lot of the ecommerce pioneers and thinkers who were forced to change their creative and visionary spots and prove that few such souls are actually equipped to join their ideas up with logistics of stock/catalogue management the delivery process. And the biggest nightmare of all – that day when real customers are on the phone asking the sort of damn fool things that real customers always do.

The early assumptions were that the low cost of connecting buyers to bucket shop retailers would chase the high street out of existence because of the reduced overheads of an online business. Well, nothing there has changed in the fundamentals: high street rents and staff salaries are still vastly more than the costs of running a website, and will remain so. This was the first wave of so called B2C internet propositions, lead so visibly by Amazon. The stock in trade of Amazon was initially convenience, but it quite smartly evolved in convenience plus information services to support and encourage sales.

Contrast Amazon’s lavish product information with that of just about every other B2C retailer. Here is the world’s most impressive connected information environment, but just look at the information a site like Dixons provides on the products it’s flogging. No more than the leaflets than the they hand out in the store.

Now, Dixons and the rest of the wizened retailers who know about real customers and real business might claim that this is because in the UK, operations like the Trading Standards offices will be on them like a ton of bricks if they link to information that is not 100% accurate, and I agree that this may well be the reason for the adoption of the simplest and the lowest common denominator in consumer retail sites. But that’s no reason to accept this without a struggle, because the alternative of a site like is sheer consumer heaven. I have an inkling that people at Trading Standards will be increasingly open to creative suggestions along these lines.

By sheer dint of the volume of garbage that’s “out there”, search engines have become hopelessly ineffective ways of looking to buy stuff on the net. Some attempts to create shopping portals and price comparison sites have been tried and in limited areas have got some success especially epinions and some other “share your experiences” sites.

Volumes of information is one of the things the internet does really well, even if the management and access tools are deficient. EBay is actually doing more business for its users than Amazon, and that’s because eBay is doing something that cannot be done any traditional way – a car boot sale in Cyberspace simply puts more people in touch with other than any muddy field on a Sunday morning. No mystical effort is required to understand that.

Desktop Video IV – the nightmare continues in Gotcha Gulch

This review of the B2C scene was inspired by a recent experience of mine to source a viable desktop video solution. For despite all those folks inspired by the success of the “The Blair Witch Project” and its legendary use of cheap video (interesting item on this at to produce a wonderful piece of hype that made obscene piles of cash, have still not yet forced the manufacturers of the products in this genre to get their acts together.

I have been dipping in and out of the state of the desktop video scene since before B2C hysteria, to see if the hype and promise of “easy video editing on your PC” has got any closer to the reality, and whilst I have to say that the brilliant new Adobe Premiere 6 is now doing to the overpriced DV editing products like Avid and Media100 what InDesign has been steadily doing to the likes of Quark Xpress, the ease of assembling a series of hardware and software elements and expecting them to work together – even a teensy bit – is still far more of an act of more faith than really ought to be necessary.

Our old friends Sony and JVC have some fabulous products – blighted with some infuriating gotchas. Although still at large, the classic DV gotcha of absence of a 2-way IEE1394 (“firewire”) interface is gradually receding; after many happy years of standard AA cells, D cell. PP3 and the like, the industry’s inability to establish a standard Lithium Ion format is more than just inconvenient.

The internet does precious little to assist in the process of “browsing” for such purchases in anything like the same way that a meatspace encounter with a specialist retailer of the products can provide. I am lucky enough to be able to call up my old mate Bob Crabtree of Computer Video magazine and pick his brain (what’s left of it…) to get the word from those who spent many, many hours fiddling with installations and settings, so I don’t have to. Things are a bit better, but desktop video editing is still strictly for the extremely experienced or the desperately lucky.

So is it any wonder that the excitement of the first intrepid internauts who were willing to put up with computers being computers was swept away by the tide of consumers who find the average web shopping experience to be utterly hopeless.

But < the interesting question remains, because what we have seen to date isn’t even the “Model T” implementation of the possibilities afforded by the right technology in the hands of competent executioners – what’s really going to happen when the online shopping experience actually gets its act together with the producers of products, and delivers on the promise..?