The great big disconnect with electronic commerce

John Gushue
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Question No. 1: Who’s on the internet? The short answer is, pretty much everyone.

Well, let’s just say it’s a bit more than five in every six people, or about 84 per cent.

Question No. 2: Who’s not on the internet? The short answer is, probably not the small or medium-sized business down the road. Well, they may have a website … but they’re not truly conducting business online.

In fact, only about one in every six businesses is actually selling its products and services online, or about 17 per cent.

See the disconnect? It’s pretty glaring when you compare those figures.

I found them in a presentation by the BDC, a.k.a. the federally owned Business Development Bank of Canada.

BDC presentation on consumer trends

There; now you can read it for yourself.

It’s an interesting presentation on macro-trends in the country, but what leapt out at me is a startling divide between consumers, who have by and large moved to an “always-on” approach to online connectivity, and the businesses that are supposedly competing for their dollars.

The two are in very different places.

For many businesses, I would imagine that the status quo for years has been a well-mannered, inoffensive website, perhaps one decked out with a splash of colour.

What’s missing? The knowledge that your website is not just a digital brochure, not to mention the tools needed to make a sale, ship a product and ensure a customer’s satisfaction.

As it stands, I can’t get over how many businesses evidently forget even the basic information on their website.

I tried in vain a few months ago to find a contact number for one small company; it was nowhere to be seen on the site.

When I did track down a number (through Canada 411) and mentioned the website during our call, I was told, “Oh, everyone knows how to reach us.”

Um … wow.

Commerce is changing. As the BDC report points out, consumers not only have a steadier online presence, they rely heavily on social media (the majority connecting with social networks on a daily basis) and also expect higher quality at an affordable price.

Let’s set aside the debate on unrealistic expectations, and focus instead on a pretty dramatic shift in the marketplace.

The young consumers who are now coming into their own have grown up with online shopping, instantly accessible price comparisons, chat-enabled customer service helpdesk and, especially, websites that are interactive, not static.

Where is your business in meeting those demands?

Your competitors, the ones who realize that customer habits have been quickly evolving, aren’t just updating their websites. They have a strategy. They’re adapting. They’re eating your lunch.

Elsewhere this week

Twisted Sifter

There’s no problem in finding quantity of choices for your online browsing time, but quality? There’s the rub … especially when time is something you don’t want to waste.

I love sites like Twisted Sifter. They do the time-consuming stuff of looking around for fascinating articles, photos and videos, and then they gather them together in one attractive package.

Not everything will appeal to you, of course, but that’s the point: in the eclectic mix, you’re bound to find a gem on every visit.

E-reader update

Some interesting research came out this week from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which shows what gadgets consumers are using.

Not surprisingly, tablet use is soaring (and is getting close to the percentage of use for smartphones), but the focus is on e-readers.

Devices like the Kindle are increasingly popular, but Pew researchers found that there hasn’t been a wholesale change from paper to digital.

Rather, frequent readers prefer both their gadget and traditional books and magazines.

While the data are for the U.S., they would probably be relevant north of the border.

John Gushue is a digital producer with CBC News in ye olde St. John’s. Connect on Twitter: @johngushue. Blog:

Organizations: BDC, Business Development Bank of Canada.BDC, Canada 411 CBC News

Geographic location: U.S.

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