Magazine article Management Today

Untangling the Web

Magazine article Management Today

Untangling the Web

Article excerpt

Dial Vauxhall Motor's pages on the Internet and snazzy graphical screens will invite you further into cyberspace to explore the company's latest cars. You can locate your nearest dealer, took for an affordable hire-purchase package, or discover 'the tax liability of a particular model. If you've got enough time, you can even download video clips of the vehicles in action. And if you don't want to know anything about Vauxhall cars, you can still use the pages to check the latest traffic conditions on the motorway. Vauxhall is just one of hundreds of companies that are joining the Internet in the belief that it offers huge business possibilities. In the US, where Internet fever is even more advanced than the UK, almost every business is expected to be on the Net by the year 2000.

The companies'enthusiasm is not surprising considering the potential audience - more than one million people in the UK already have access to the Net, and that number is expected to double by the end of the year. Globally, the number of cybersurfers is thought to exceed 40 million.

Many are commercially attractive well-heeled males aged between 25 and 40.

Most companies on the Net are using it to advertise products and services, inviting visitors to provide their e-mail addresses for further information. Financial services companies are providing on-line quotations; estate agents are displaying houses; and recruitment consultants are matching people to jobs. Some companies are taking orders and confirming delivery dates. Retailers such as Sainsbury and Blackwell have even begun to take credit card numbers for payment on the Net. Thanks to military-style encryption mechanisms, they say their systems are secure.

Despite the rush, however, the financial advantages are not yet proven. Alasdair Luxmoore, brand communications manager at Vauxhall, admits that his company decided to join the information superhighway without really knowing where it would lead. This whole area is about trying new things and seeing what hits the sweetest spot.' He concedes that Vauxhall probably hasn't sold many cars specifically as a result of its presence on the World Wide Web, the commercial domain of the Internet. But like many Web pioneers, he believes the mere fact of being there and experimenting is worthwhile.

People should be getting into it and understanding the Internet because it could have a major impact on their business.'

One advantage of setting up a Web site is that it doesn't cost much - you can rent a few pages via a service such as Pipex Dial from just E15 per month, plus f,50 start-up costs. Once established, you have a presence 24 hours a day, 365 days, with a potential audience world-wide. Affordability was a major incentive for Vauxhall. 'There has been a huge increase in the cost of traditional advertising media during the past few years,' Luxmoore says.

We were very keen to experiment with new ways of communicating with customers that also offered long-term cost reduction.'

Another advantage of the Web is that it is a great equaliser - small companies can compete effectively alongside multinational corporations. This opportunity has been successfully exploited by Michael Wolff, managing director of Ki Net, based at Lethin near Nairn in Scotland. Wolff helps small specialist companies to sell products such as smoked salmon and whisky over the Net. One distillery he launched on the Web has doubled sales during the past year and located a US distributor in three months after more than a year of looking in the traditional manner.

A few DIY pages on a service such as Pipex Dial can work well for small businesses and one-man-bands such as restaurants or specialist consultancies. Alternatively, for a few thousand pounds, you can set up your own'server' which can simply be a PC that stores as many Web pages as you like and can be accessed from the Net. This budget would also cover the cost of having your pages professionally designed. …

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