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Book Reviews

Futureconsumer.com: The Shape of On-line Shopping in 2010

by Frank Feather

The Net User’s Guide to Buying, Selling, and Trading Collectibles

by R. J. Gulliver

Shopping Online for Canadians for Dummies

by Fiorella Grossi, Marguerite Pigeon, Joseph Lowery

Selling Online: How to Become a Successul E-commerce Merchant in Canada

by Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead

Some people believe the World Wide Web will usher in a new era of peace and social justice. Some say it’s the greatest invention since the taming of fire. Others say simply, “Let’s go shopping!”
However you slice it, e-commerce is huge, and getting bigger every minute. Canadians spent $1.2-billion online in 1998, according to a study by IT industry-watcher International Data Corporation, and they expect this number to rise to $13-billion by 2003.
As usual, the Americans are there first, setting up dozens of big-name web sites for shoppers to bookmark, while many Canadian firms dither on the sidelines. In 1998, an estimated 60% of online purchases flowed to U.S. sites. That’s a lot of cyber-cash leaving the country – especially when a survey by Deloitte and Touche/Angus Reid Group found that seven out of 10 online shoppers would sooner buy from a Canadian source.
It makes sense. Anyone in Canada ordering books from Amazon.com, for instance, has to endure rather punishing shipping costs, unpredictable delays, and stiff currency conversion.
Four new books from Canadian sources cover different aspects of online shopping. In their own way, each one may help readers in this country understand how the growth of e-commerce will affect their lives.
By far the most entertaining of the four is the new book from Frank Feather, called futureconsumer.com: The Shape of On-line Shopping in 2010. Feather is probably Canada’s best-known futurist, a popular business speaker who claims to have coined the phrase “Think globally, act locally.” His latest title offers explicit homage to Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan, with a prose style that at times mimics his predecessors: “The silicon solvent of frictionless capital dissolves brick-and-mortar into click streams of digital consumerism.” Fortunately, his writing is not always like that, and his argument remains for the most part clear and accessible.

Mass upheaval
Like a cheerful prophet of doom, Feather describes how the “Webolution” will sweep across the landscape like a hurricane, “smashing to bits” every outpost of the traditional bricks-and-mortar economy. By 2010, he predicts, “Thousands of retail establishments and malls will have vanished, the bulk of downtown office buildings will have lost their office workers and been converted into apartments and hotels, and most school and college campuses will have been abandoned.”
As the Third Wave – Toffler’s term for the information revolution – finally hits, the entire focus of our economy will shift from the industrial age, mass consumption, workplace-centred model to a “home-centred, cyber-spaced, Web-mobile lifestyle.” Whew!
Much of this has been said before, some of it by Feather himself in his previous books. Although his sources are seldom identified, he does provide a lot of authentic-sounding research and comes up with an intriguing, if overly bright, picture of the future: Your luggage will call home if it’s ever lost! Working at home will give you both more income and more free time! And you’ll never have to wait in line again!
Feather is most entertaining when he goes after the backward-looking dinosaurs who deny what he calls the inevitable. To the business professor who says the Harvard experience can’t be duplicated online: “What arrogant ignorance!” To the radio DJ who dislikes MP3s because you can’t beat holding a CD in your hands and reading the liner notes: “What utter balderdash!”
Feather gets down to business in the middle 150 pages when he analyzes who will shop online and what they will buy, from clothing to financial services. He provides charts, tables, and specific predictions on what percentage of business will be conducted online, and what the top five web sites will be in each sector in 2010. Along the way, he dispenses many insights. Consumers are overwhelmed by choices on the Web, he says, and will bookmark only a few favourite sites. There are more women online than men now, and they tend to shop a little differently. And whatever sector you’re in, he says, get ready for some tremendous dislocation caused by Web-based commerce.
The other three books in this roundup are more traditional how-to computer books, each covering a different corner of the online world.

Celebrity genes
The Net User’s Guide to Buying, Selling, and Trading Collectibles, by R. J. Gulliver, peers into the growing world of online collectibles. No predictions of apocalypse here, just the author’s calm, measured tones as he explains how to use the Web to buy, sell, and trade anything from yesterday’s Beanie Babies to tomorrow’s celebrity DNA samples.
Throughout, Gulliver writes in an easy, conversational way, clearly spelling out the pleasures and perils of online collecting, and dropping many useful hints in a tone that will appeal to young and old collectors alike. He covers how to get in on the ground floor of a new collectible craze, and use the Web to buy and sell one’s way to riches. Example: for best results in online auctions, bid when everyone else is asleep, on U.S. holidays, and on big TV nights.
A final chapter explains to readers how to set up an elementary web site to promote their own collectibles (and avoid going through eBay). A 28-page listing of web sites and brief descriptions rounds out the back of the book. The guide, while thin, will be helpful to avid collectors wondering how to use the Net to further their hobby.
Shopping Online for Canadians for Dummies delivers another predictable entry in the Dummies franchise, dishing out the expected measure of chuckles and tongue-in-cheek coverage. The initial chapters describe issues such as getting online, navigating with browser software, using credit cards to make online purchases, and ensuring digital security.
Then comes the obvious highlight of this volume: a 75-page annotated shopping directory to the Web. In case anyone might miss it, this section is printed on searing yellow paper. The site listings are an eccentric mix of the glaringly obvious (www.chapters.ca) and the charmingly obscure (www.islandnet.com/~theos/index.htm, a site where you can order a pastel sketch of your pet from a B.C. artist). The listings are roughly half Canadian, or the Canadianized versions of American sites. (The travel site www.expedia.msn.ca, for instance, gives prices in Canadian dollars.)
CDG also published a recent entry in another franchise, the popular Internet series from Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead. Selling Online: How to Become a Successful E-Commerce Merchant in Canada fills an important gap in the marketplace, just as it urges Canadian retailers to fill the online trade gap now opening up with the U.S.
This text is service journalism at its best, with solid advice, practical tips, checklists, and comments from other e-tailers who have walked this path before. Carroll and Broadhead outline the 12 cardinal sins of running an online store, including sending customers unsolicited e-mails without providing a telephone number. They analyze the gut-wrenching tradeoffs between seeking merchant status and using an Internet payment service to process transactions. They discuss how to promote a store online and build customer loyalty.
The authors also caution against succumbing to Internet hype: Better to use some cautious optimism, they say, and work out a step-by-step strategy. This book should be required reading for any Canadian contemplating setting up an online store.
Hyperbole is present here, however, in the form of breathless little factoids that pop up on some pages. “Amazon.com was the first e-commerce site to serve 10 million customers,” we read. And the point is…? Stripped of any context, such tidbits do little to build an argument; still, they’re fun, and they break up the pages nicely.
Some might wonder why a homegrown perspective on this material is needed. While there are many global truths about the Web, the business landscape is different in Canada. And it’s refreshing to hear the authors urge their fellow citizens to challenge the stodgy attitude Canadian banks have toward e-commerce for small business.