E-Commerce to Cut Paper Transactions

Article excerpt

My new binoculars are snazzy. Years of hiking and jolting my 25-year-old pair of bird-watching viewers finally took their toll. With binoculars in one hand and the eyepiece in the other, I realized it was time for a replacement.

My new glasses include a 7-21 mm zoom lens with an optical light absorption rate of 40, hard rubberized exterior and vinyl-fortified carrying case. As Tim Taylor, the "Tool Man" on the "Home Improvement" TV show, would say, the new binoculars have more power . . . rugh, rugh, rugh.

The most amazing thing about my new binoculars, however, is how I bought them. The outdoor supply store swiped my credit card, then asked me to apply my signature to an electronic pad with a pen-mouse. The signature was checked against my credit-card company's file of my signature to verify the transaction. The only paper evidence of my purchase was the register slip handed to me - the receipt.

Imagine that. A paperless transaction. It didn't save any rain forests (maybe a leaf or two) but when you consider the billions of retail transactions taking place per day across this land, paperless transactions could probably save a tree or two a day.

I'm not an expert in these ecological matters, but I have seen a few real estate transaction files in my day. They are humongous. Buying a home with a government-insured loan makes the file even bulkier - about 1-inch to 2-inches bulkier.

Consider this: U.S. Housing Markets recently announced single-family building permit applications are being filed at a record clip. By the end of 1999, it looks like builders will file for about 1.277 million permits - a 7.5 percent jump over 1998.

The District leads the way in the greatest growth rate for permit applications. Between the second quarter of 1998 and the second quarter of 1999, the number of permits grew by 376 percent in the city.

Each permit awarded for a single-family home represents an eventual transaction file measuring from 1-inch to 2-inches thick. For 1999, that means the new-home transactions will generate a stack of paper between 106,416 and 212,832 feet tall. In miles, you're looking at a really big pile - 20 miles to 40 miles - and that's not even counting the resales.

If you want to boggle your gray matter even further, start multiplying that by 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and we're about to the moon, just for files on new-home-sale transactions.

Is there a better way? Well, if you look at how easily I conducted a virtually paperless purchase for my binoculars, it is doable. A little research on the Web brings up some hopeful scenarios.

One of the leaders in paperless transaction technology development is 3Com, which recently introduced its PocketSign, an application that works with the popular Palm hand-held electronics system. …