A Framework for Effective User Interface Design for Web-Based Electronic Commerce Applications

Article excerpt

Introduction

There are many existing definitions of electronic commerce, none of which are agreed-upon. But many of them are similar.

* "simple definition: Electronic commerce (EC) is the buying and selling of products, services, and information via computer networks.

* "more formal definition: EC is a dynamic set of technologies, applications and business processes that link enterprises, consumers and communities through the electronic exchange of goods, services, transactions and information primarily via the Internet, Intranets, and Extranets.

Over the last six years the Internet has challenged businesses to reexamine their methods for delivering products and services. Traditional methods of selling and transacting business in a storefront setting are being replaced by electronic commerce, i.e., the buying and selling and products across globally connected electronic networks. Efficient delivery of relevant product information is increasingly becoming the central basis of competition between firms. Web-initiated sales were projected to rise from $1 billion in 1995 to $117 billion in 2000 (Shaw, Gardner and Thomas; 1997). Gartner Group estimated that by 2003 B2C e-commerce market revenue will surpass $380 billion (in 1999 it was $31.2 billion, up from $11.2 billion in 1998).

Electronic commerce can be classified along several business and technological dimensions. In terms of business models, electronic commerce may be classified as either content delivery (e.g. Yahoo, Excite, Altavista), storefronts (business-to-consumer, or B2C), brokers (consumer-to-consumer, or C2C), corporate Intranets and extranets (business-to-business, or B2B), or marketing (informational only).

Content delivery sites are intended to deliver a wide variety of news and information to a worldwide audience. Most information contained in these sites is very dynamic and therefore must constantly be updated; it also has a relatively short period of usefulness. These sites demand responsiveness, reliability, availability, fast performance, and ability to handle denial-of-service attacks and many other factors.

Storefronts are the sites most commonly thought of as electronic commerce sites. The information for these sites is a mix of both static data (product descriptions) and dynamic data (availability and pricing). The data is structured and stored in databases. In order to provide superior customer service these sites demand high security, responsiveness, reliability, availability and fast performance.

Brokers are market-maker sites, i.e. they exist to bring buyers and sellers of products together in a virtual auction setting. EBay is probably the most well known consumer-to-consumer site. The technological demands of these sites are similar to storefronts.

Corporate Intranets and extranets seek to provide information to employees and business partners. Some examples of information stored on Intranets may be corporate newsletters, reports, and policy manuals. Extranets, such as e-purchasing sites, seek to reduce the cost of doing business along the organization's value chain. These sites demand reliability, availability, guaranteed transactional security and security focus on user authentication.

Marketing or informational sites are intended to educate or inform the user about products or services offered by the company. Most organizations, especially smaller ones, are not interested in web sites generating income as much as informing potential customers about their product offerings. The demands for these sites are much simpler; security is not a concern as much as informativeness.

Numerous research issues for electronic commerce are being investigated. Consumer trust in electronic transactions, consumer shopping behavior, transaction security and multi-enterprise management are just a sampling of the many issues unresearched. For this paper, the focus is less about purchasing issues; rather, it focuses more on informational aspects of electronic commerce, i. …