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Bullish on e-commerce

Oct 21, 20023 mins
Enterprise Applications

America might be at war by then and the economy will still be Jell-O, but nothing short of Armageddon – or perhaps an elf strike – will keep the holiday gift-shopping season from happening this year.

Few predictions inspire such confidence among experts. So we spoke recently to Joel Ronning, CEO of e-commerce services provider Digital River, to get an idea of what the better online storefronts are doing to get ready.

Digital River says it has 32,000 clients ranging from high-tech heavyweights such as Novell, Symantec and Siemens to household names such as Major League Baseball and National Geographic . . . as well as a boatload of mom and pops. Ronning says about 11,000 software publishers generate 75% of his revenue.

Ronning insists business has never been better – the company is profitable – and that the future couldn’t look brighter.

“While the general business assumption is that the Internet thing has gone away, the reality is exactly the opposite,” he says. “There are more people online than there were a year ago and they’re buying more than they did a year ago.”

Other trends:

“Year over year we continue to see more products purchased digitally,” he says. “People are getting more comfortable with getting a digital file than they were one, two or six years ago. That’s good news because it allows us to deliver a product halfway around the world in a matter of seconds.”

E-commerce sites are still too complicated, despite a droning drumbeat of advice to cut it the heck out.

“They continue to be developed by technical talent, [but] we’re seeing a shift to getting them done by people who really understand customer usability,” Ronning says. “Generally, when we take over a client site we spend the first quarter just getting it so it’s a much friendlier user experience.”

What he doesn’t see are sites selling “bowling balls or dog food.”

Ask nothing, expect little

The thought was that if I went to hear the head of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board explain its new cybersecurity recommendations I might acquire a bit of optimism about their likelihood for success.

I went. I heard. And came away even more convinced that this initiative is doomed to accomplish only a fraction of the job.

Nothing less than the future of our economy rests on its success, we have been told. Nothing short of our physical security should be considered a higher priority.

Yet absolutely nothing will be asked – as in demanded – of any service provider, hardware vendor, software maker, network executive or taxpayer.

The bully pulpit, heightened education and a spirit of shared commitment will be the weapons of choice.

“What we are trying to avoid is a heavy-handed federal mandate,” Richard Clarke told a roomful of journalists last week.

Never mind heavy-handed. They aren’t requiring anyone to lift a finger, which assures that an awful lot of those who should be bending their backs will simply slink away instead.

Clarke never came close to reconciling that disconnect between the importance of the mission and his board’s unwillingness to make any demands of anyone, which leave politics and ideology as the only plausible explanations.

“I find fascinating the comment that we’re not doing enough,” Clarke complained.

I was surprised he didn’t wink when he said it.

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