Electronic Commerce or e-commerce, the exchange of goods and services by means of the Internet or other computer networks. E-commerce follows the same basic principles as traditional commerce—that is, buyers and sellers come together to exchange goods for money. But rather than conducting business in the traditional way—in stores and other “brick and mortar” buildings or through mail order catalogs and telephone operators—in e-commerce buyers and sellers transact business over networked computers.
E-commerce offers buyers convenience. They can visit the World Wide Web sites of multiple vendors 24 hours a day and seven days a week to compare prices and make purchases, without having to leave their homes or offices. In some cases, consumers can immediately obtain a product or service, such as an electronic book, a music file, or computer software, by downloading it over the Internet.
For sellers, e-commerce offers a way to cut costs and expand their markets. They do not need to build, staff, or maintain a store or print and distribute mail order catalogs. Automated order tracking and billing systems cut additional labor costs, and if the product or service can be downloaded, e-commerce firms have no distribution costs. Because they sell over the global Internet, sellers have the potential to market their products or services globally and are not limited by the physical location of a store. Internet technologies also permit sellers to track the interests and preferences of their customers with the customer’s permission and then use this information to build an ongoing relationship with the customer by customizing products and services to meet the customer’s needs.
E-commerce also has some disadvantages, however. Consumers are reluctant to buy some products online. Online furniture businesses, for example, have failed for the most part because customers want to test the comfort of an expensive item such as a sofa before they purchase it. Many people also consider shopping a social experience. For instance, they may enjoy going to a store or a shopping mall with friends or family, an experience that they cannot duplicate online. Consumers also need to be reassured that credit card transactions are secure and that their privacy is respected.
A variety of businesses are conducted online, including retail businesses that sell products to consumers, service providers that sell services to consumers, auctioneers that create a marketplace for products and services, and business-to-business commerce. Retail transactions make up the largest part of e-commerce. Consumers can find computers, automobiles, clothing, books, music, airline and event tickets, food, and just about anything else for sale on the Internet.