18.2 Using e-commerce
Many people now have internet connections and this offers many benefits to both businesses and their customers.
From a customer's point of view, e-commerce has a number of advantages. Shopping can be done from home; you can probably find what you need without trudging from one shop to another and waiting in queues. You can also purchase goods 24 hours a day, every day.
From the point of view of a business, e-commerce also offers a number of advantages. There is a potentially wide customer base. Setting up a website and using it to do business can be more cost effective than using a conventional shop. There are fewer overheads in terms of, for example, heating, lighting and staffing. The costs of delivering goods are relatively low compared with those of running a shop. Businesses can use the Web to reach customers on a national or even international basis, rather than being confined to a shop's geographic location. The Web creates a more level playing-field in that smaller companies can compete against larger companies.
However, e-commerce works well only if the company has a good warehouse system and access to an effective distribution system. The company must have the goods in its warehouse in sufficient quantities and at the right time in order to meet its customers' orders. The company must also ensure that the goods can be conveyed to the customer as quickly as possible, which may involve using couriers and other special delivery services.
In many ways, the ICT system used in an online operation is very similar to that of a conventional supermarket. There are users' computers, networks and database servers. There are also web servers, which are computers that hold web pages and make them available to users over the internet.
Shopping online typically involves:
browsing an online catalogue, accessible from the organisation's web server;
adding a product to a virtual shopping basket;
going to a virtual checkout when you have completed your selections;
paying for the goods using a credit card or using a special system, such as PayPal.
Activity 18 (exploratory)
What concerns might a customer have about shopping online? Try to compare online shopping with face-to-face shopping.
These are some concerns I have about online shopping. There may be security worries about using a credit or debit card in the transaction. How secure is the payment system? I might be concerned about whether the seller is genuine and reliable. I do not have an opportunity to examine the goods before I purchase them, so they might turn out to be unsuitable. I might have to arrange to be home in order to receive the goods. I might worry that the goods will not arrive on time (or not arrive at all!)
Activity 19 is intended to help you consolidate your learning for this section. Don't worry if you find this activity a challenge. What's important is that you have a go at applying what you've learnt to a different situation.
Activity 19 (self-assessment)
Think about the way you use your own computer to get information about goods and services from the Web. For example, you may have visited a shopping website to look at their online catalogue.
Figures 8, 10, and 11 each present a model of a different sort of ICT system. Which of these diagrams best models the situation where you are visiting an online shopping site? When you have decided, compare your answer with mine, before moving on to (b).
Complete the following 'walkthrough' of an online shopping ICT system to find examples of the processes involved; imagine you are already logged onto the internet, and you start by typing in the web address of the shopping site you wish to visit:
Data is received by my computer from me, the user, when I type the web address using the keyboard. My computer manipulates the data for my request into a suitable form …
Figure 11 best models this situation. The computer on the left would be my PC, the network is the internet and the computer on the right is the shopping organisation's server. (The organisation's web server and database server would probably be separate computers, but for the purposes of this activity you can assume that there is a single computer which acts as both.)
This is how I completed the walkthrough. Don't worry if what you've written is a bit different – what is important is that you have the same basic ideas.
Data is received by my computer from me, the user, when I type the web address using the keyboard. My computer manipulates the data for my request into a suitable form and then sends it into the internet. Data is also sent to me, the user, by displaying the web address on my computer's screen.
The internet selects a route and conveys the data for my request to the shopping website. The devices in the internet may need to manipulate, store or retrieve data as part of this process.
The online shopping organisation's server receives my request. It then retrieves the requested data, carries out some manipulation on it and sends it into the internet.
The internet conveys this data to my computer, where it may be stored on my computer's hard disk and will be sent to me by displaying the web page on my computer screen.