Clicks and Mortar: The new store fronts
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Retail and Consumer Services Foresight Panel's consultation on the report Clicks and Mortar: The new store fronts. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. The RSE has been closely involved with Foresight since its inception, with the Scottish launch of both the first and current phases of the exercise taking place at the RSE. The Society has subsequently supported many Foresight initiatives and organises a series of Foresight Seminars which aim to encourage a dialogue between the science base and all sectors within Scotland on the technological needs of individual sectors and of the potential of the science base to address these needs. In collaboration with the law firm Archibald, Campbell and Harley, WS, the Society has recently initiated a series of Retailing Seminars, bringing together those interested in this area from a range of different backgrounds, including retailing, property surveying and management, academia, public sector and planning, law, design and the media.
This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows with substantial experience of business and information technology.
Overall comments are:
Comments on specific areas of the report are addressed below:
Fulfillment and delivery
While the report centres on issues surrounding the process of selection in e-commerce, greater attention should be paid to issues associated with fulfillment and delivery. These areas are especially critical given the statements about anticipated growth in goods which cannot be delivered by electronic means. The issues may be manageable in urban areas, but the problems of delivery will be quite severe in rural areas, especially in the North of Scotland.
The trends in e-commerce are to have customers undertake increasingly more self-service operations with technology mediation. This demands that consumers acquire the new technological skills necessary to operate these channels. While the scenarios considered in the report do mention the need for skills training, it is a critical issue which will have a very significant impact on the commercial uptake of e-commerce services and deserves more prominence in the report's highlights. It would also be useful if the report pointed towards a concerted programme of 'popular' education via TV and media and gave support to initiatives, such as the Open University's new Internet course in which some 9,000 students have registered.
The report has, perhaps justifiably, been written for a UK audience but it should build on the global nature of the Internet marketplace as an opportunity for British companies to broaden their commercial reach. There is an important omission of the European dimension, both in terms of the recognising the need for a variety of languages to be accommodated in the user interfaces designed for these e-commerce services, and of considering the Euro and other international currency issues.
The US model
The US model is a key assertion in the report and the mainstay of the optimism with which the report is delivered. Whilst this is a valid point of view, and the report identifies a bulleted list of reasons for the assertion, it must also be recognised that since the e-commerce market in the UK is some 2-3 years behind the market in the US, alternative access technologies to the PC-based Internet of the US market, have appeared already in the UK. These are identified variously in the report as digital television, electronic games consoles and mobile telephony. The report, however, singles out the digital television solution as being the powerhouse for the future of e-commerce in UK, rather than offering a more balanced consideration of alternative access technologies, especially mobile telephony.
The report presents digital television as an alternative e-commerce entity, almost in competition with the Internet rather than identifying the television as simply an Internet access device (an alternative to the PC or the mobile telephone). Whilst it may be the ambitions of television media companies to present proprietary standards for their TV-based e-commerce channels, with governed access to content and to Internet sites, the experience in the US in the mid 90's when proprietor on-line services such as Delphi, Prodigy and even the first incarnation of Microsoft Network (MSN) were developed, was that these failed to survive in the face of the open standards of the IP protocol of the Internet. Looking back at this report in five years time, the same message may appear - that the television companies failed in their attempts to hold back the tide of the open Internet standards, failed to secure their proprietary content, and failed to become the cornerstone of e-commerce for UK consumers.
In responding to this consultation the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: Royal Society of Edinburgh Foresight Seminar on the Ageing Population (December 1999); Royal Society of Edinburgh Foresight Seminar on Manufacturing 2020 (February 2000); and Royal Society of Edinburgh Foresight Seminar on Information, Communications and Media (March 2000). Copies of the above publications and further copies of this response are available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands