The best way to learn is by doing. Along the way, e-commerce has found that some ideas that seemed promising at first are best left in the dustbin of technology history. A host of solutions to various problems have been tried, and in many cases discarded just as quickly.
“Good companies are flexible enough to try something and [then] pull back if it doesn’t work the way they had hoped or if it causes problems,” Morningstar.com analyst David Kathman told the E-Commerce Times. “That’s really the best way to figure out what will and won’t work.”
Cash and Carry
One e-commerce problem was easy to spot: Buying online meant the purchaser needed a credit card, and many consumers, including those with poor credit ratings and teenagers, do not have them. The solution has been an array of alternative payment systems designed just for the Web.
Most of those systems have not lasted. Flooz.com folded last summer, followed a week later by competitor Beenz.com. CyberCash was acquired by Verisign and has been integrated into that company’s online cash register product.
Of course, some companies, most notably PayPal, continue to thrive in the online payment business. But the failure of so many alternatives has helped make it clear that online money is not all that different from offline money.
“We think the teen market isn’t as hard as it seems,” Forrester analyst Christopher Kelley told the E-Commerce Times. “They find a way to buy online using the traditional means. There wasn’t quite the critical mass there that was once believed.”
Although not quite dead and buried, shopping bots have had their day in the sun. Or was it the shade? Their heydey came during the 2000 holiday season, when bots were blamed for helping to slow or crash dozens of Web sites as they scoured the Web for rare products, such as newly released video game consoles.
While some shopping bots still operate, many Web sites have beefed up their defenses to make it more difficult for automated systems to comb through their listings. Most shoppers now rely on search engines rather than bots to help them find what they want to buy, according to NetRatings director and senior analyst Lisa Strand.
“I think there was a brief moment when people questioned the value of search engines, but we’ve seen over and over how important they are for Web users of all levels,” Strand said.
RealNames Strikes Out
The latest technology to bite the dust appears to be keywords, along with the company behind them, RealNames.
Keywords were once seen as a key shortcut for navigating the Internet and finding the brands and destinations shoppers really wanted.
While RealNames blasted Microsoft for its demise, blaming the tech giant’s unwillingness to support the keyword feature going forward, others pointed out that most browsers have been upgraded to do essentially what keywords did — eliminating the need to get Web addresses just right.
Keywords may end up being another example of a solution to an obvious problem that simply did not catch on with users, according to Strand.
“There have been a lot of different ideas for how people can best find their way around the Web,” Strand said. In addition to keywords and search bots, the taxonomy-style listings favored by Yahoo! appear to be less popular with surfers as well, she noted.
“The search engine is still what works for most people.”