As Europe's first internet-only bank launches, and e*trade makes Charles Swab green, it's time to consider what makes a successful eCommerce site.
So what does make an eCommerce offering successful? Enba, who run first-e are adamant: it's about speed, and it's about flexibility. And a super-low cost structure helps too. In an interview with the BBC, they stress this again and again.
But why these factors? Cost is obvious - self-service internet transactions are always going to cost less than those with human intermediaries. But the other two?
Speed is probably the biggest factor which will drive a site to success. It's because in this industry, the company that gets ahead, stays ahead (unless you make a complete botch of it). You get all sorts of first-mover advantages, including the all-important buzz. Once you've got the momentum, and you're gaining customers hand over fist, no-one can catch you.
Of course you have to keep gaining customers. Amazon are in the business of acquiring customers, reckoning that the per-customer acquisition cost will never be so low. And once they've drawn customers in with books, they then cross sell books, toys etc. Amazon reckon that by 2002 each customer will be spending around $600/annum. With an anticipated 100m customers, they will be profitable at that point.
Flexibility is also important, however. You need to be learning every day from customers, and implementing minor improvements. You might have noticed that evolt.org has been evolving over time, since the big launch a few months ago. Think about the daily headline email; think about the dates with article comments. It's all in response to user feedback. If we were doing this fulltime, then we would be monitoring the stats in great detail, and making many more minor changes. As it is, we're looking at a number of backend improvements which will deliver a vastly more reliable site (so we can cope when we get hit with slashdot traffic). Again, if this were a full-scale ecommerce site, we'd be negotiating partnerships every day for content, traffic and technical infrastructure to improve what we offer.
As well as the slow, gradual improvements, you also want to be thinking about the next major launch - what's the next big thing, six months down the track from the original launch? We have some plans which are so cool they make me grin just thinking about them. Although evolt.org isn't a commercial entity, we're right up there on the flexibility stakes - especially as new content gets added almost every day.
So these, then, are the two big hits of eCommerce - speed and flexibility. Remember them, use them, preach them to your friends (but not your competitors, eh?)