Web-based Business Applications
The World Wide Web has contributed significantly to the creation of a global marketplace. The Web offers business users a wide range of opportunities for advertising and marketing their goods and services as well as for conducting e-commerce over the Internet. Some of the more commonly used capabilities of the Web include the use of Web sites, business-to-customer e-business applications, and business-to-business e-business applications. In addition, as advances in information technology continue, businesses find new and innovative ways to use the Web to reach customers and partners alike.
Arguably, one of the greatest contributors to the global marketplace in the twenty-first century is the World Wide Web (more commonly referred to as "the web"). However, this means not only that businesses have a larger market in which to sell their products and services: It also means that there is more competition within that same marketplace. Fortunately, the same capabilities of information technology in general and the web in particular that have contributed to the development of a global marketplace enable businesses to be competitive within that marketplace as well.
The web is a set of interconnected Internet sites that use the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). Electronic pages on the web can be viewed and retrieved using the Internet. Using browsing software and search engines, users can search the web to find webpages that contain key words. The proliferation of information on the web makes it possible to research and compare similar products and features as well as obtain the best price available in minutes rather than in hours or days. In the comfort of one's own home, one can purchase electronics, furniture, books, and more. It is even possible to point and click one's way to a full pantry using online grocery delivery services that will bring food to one's doorstep. Clothing can be purchased online with easy return policies and even virtual models that allow one to "try on" the clothes before purchase. Many of these technologies are still evolving. However, they are mature enough that more and more people rely on the Internet to conduct at least some of their business.
Not only has technology in many ways improved our lives and the ways that we do business: It also frequently renders those who do not keep up with the times looking backward and ineffectual. Meetings that require one to commute an hour each way are much less likely to make it to our schedules than are similar meetings held for 20 minutes over the web in front of our own computers. The organization demanding the in-person meeting may quickly be left in the dust as increasing numbers of people find that they do not have the time to spend on unnecessary tasks or expense to do business in the 24/7 world of the twenty-first century. The same is true for retail businesses that do not allow customers to purchase items over the web or for almost any business without a presence on the web for advertising and marketing purposes. The increasing number of technology-savvy individuals demands that an increasing amount of business be conducted electronically. The web allows this to be done.
The web offers business users a wide range of opportunities for advertising and marketing their goods and services as well as for conducting e-commerce over the Internet. Some of the more commonly used capabilities of the web include the use of websites, business-to-customer e-business applications, and business-to-business e-business applications. In addition, as advances in information technology continue, businesses find new and innovative ways to use the web to reach customers and partners alike.
Typically, the first page that one sees when visiting a company's website is the home page. This page is the electronic equivalent of a brick-and-mortar storefront and is used by a business to identify the site and provide the user with information about the contents of the other electronic documents that are a part of the site. The company's website is accessed through their web address (also called a uniform resource locator, or URL). Within the company's interrelated electronic documents, hyperlinks are used to connect or link documents to one another. These hyperlinks are words or symbols on a website that allow the user to automatically link with another page or document. Hyperlinks are usually identified as being different from regular, unlinked text by being in a different color, underlined, etc. The structure of a hypothetical website with its associated internal hyperlinks is shown in Figure 1. By clicking on the hyperlinks, users can jump from location to location within the website to find the information that they want.
Websites offer companies an opportunity to potentially reach greater numbers of prospective customers more easily than through traditional methods. Websites are typically used to market one's products and services as well as to provide answers to frequently asked questions, such as the physical location and contact information for the company, information about the company's history and vision, news updates about the company's activities, and descriptions of the products and services that the company offers. This can potentially reduce the costs of answering the phone for the company and allows customers round-the-clock access to important information. In addition, some organizations include technical data about the products on the web so that customers can search a database to find answers to their technical questions. This not only gives customers continual access to technical help, but can also reduce costs for the organization by enabling the customer to answer the easy questions for him- or herself.
Business-to-Customer E-Business Applications Online Retailing
One of the most common applications of business-to-consumer e-business applications is online retailing and electronic storefronts. Traditionally, shopping meant physically going to a store, searching aisles or displays for products of interest, comparing product features, and purchasing. With the advent of information technology, customers frequently have the opportunity to do these tasks electronically by shopping online. In online retailing, on the other hand, customers are able to visit a business's website and examine product pictures and information, compare different products, fill an electronic shopping cart, and checkout and pay for their purchases. The electronic equivalent of the storefront is the home page of the company's website, with the various webpages being the electronic equivalent of the aisles or departments of a traditional store. Rather than going to a brick-and-mortar storefront, customers can visit the company's website and look for the items that they need. Most businesses engaging in e-business allow customers to "stroll the aisles" by having links to various categories of products. For example, Wal-Mart, allows customers to go directly to apparel, baby, electronics, entertainment, home, jewelry, pharmacy, photo, sports, and toys. Similarly, Peapod, the online grocery store, allows customers various shopping options including browsing the aisles (e.g., going directly to the baking "aisle" and...
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