E-commerce; an Attractive Alternative or Compulsory Option?

Originally designed for data exchange, the Internet has become a flexible, interactive and efficient means of generating and facilitating all major business activities from information search to transaction. All the evidence suggests that businesses find an online presence beneficial in providing a fast, low-cost and widely accessible platform through which they can satisfy consumer needs more effectively and efficiently than through traditional brick-and-mortar shopping channels. The Internet moreover seems to be increasingly recognised by consumers as a convenient channel for shopping, unrestricted by store location and opening hours. From all aspects therefore, businesses taking part in this virtual retail exchange are considered to be in a ‘win-win’ situation which seems to be confirmed by online fashion retailers such as Asos.com, which report a remarkable growth in sales, while traditional high street fashion retailers have to struggle with negative consequences of recession.

Asos.com appears to be a perfect example of an online retailer who through the virtual platform successfully meets the needs of its consumers- a value-seeking young woman looking for both branded and own-label products. It is no surprise therefore that other fashion retailers including New Look and Oasis are eager to join the virtual marketplace, to benefit from its cost-efficient means to competitive advantage, both now and in the future.

Despite this evidence of online advantage however, not all companies targeting the same group of consumers have rushed to join the virtual world. Companies such as Primark, which have grown strongly through their physical stores, have for a long time resisted launching their own websites. Despite this initial resistance however, Primark seem now to recognise the importance of online presence, and have decided to enter the virtual market place, offering a limited selection of their product range online. They have decided however not to begin online retailing with a website of their own, but instead are entering into partnership with Asos, through whose website Primark is now online.

Primark emphasises that collaboration with Asos is a ‘very limited trial of online sales’ for ‘a strictly limited’ period. The aim is to give the company some insight into online retailing through which their products can be bought and consumers informed about new products and latest trends. Strategically, Primark hopes to test whether indeed online retailing will bring the promised benefits without incurring heavy investment related to launching a new venture.

Primark’s decision seems also to be pushed by a high demand from among its target group of young people who increasingly prefer to use the virtual channel rather than physical stores. Consequently the question might arise, if the demand for their products is so high, why did Primark decide not to launch their own website? Why decide instead to collaborate with a potential competitor?

The answers to such questions may be found in a proposed book, due to be published by Springer in 2014. The book entitled: ‘E-commerce Platform Acceptance: Suppliers, Retailers, and Consumers’ will be edited by three NBS researchers. The book aims to offer a comprehensive view of virtual platform acceptance, assessing opportunities and threats involved from the perspectives of suppliers, retailers and consumers. Furthermore, on the basis of identified opportunities and threats weighed against each other, the book will draw conclusions as to whether e-commerce acceptance delivers benefits which open up a new digital era, or whether it is a compulsory option carrying numerous potential downsides. It is hoped that evidence presented in this book will reveal existing and likely future consequences of e-commerce acceptance, all of which is crucial for business decisions and operations and might also disclose the reason why Primark have taken such a cautious approach to the virtual market. If you are interested in the book, please contact Ewelina (e.lacka@uea.ac.uk)

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