Introduction

Shaina decided a year ago that being an Amazing Single Mom was simply not enough of a challenge for her, so she went back to college and is currently pursuing a degree in Administrative Assisting at North Seattle College. Shaina is also an Administrative Assistant for a local Commercial Real Estate Investment company. She is an avid reader, loves long-boarding, playing volleyball, and backpacking in the North Cascades – when she is not busy studying, working, or spending time with her son, Seamus.Me

Advertisements

Spring 2014 Final – Part 2

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are several big trends in E-commerce to keep an eye on in 2014 (and the coming years). Three of the biggest, and in my opinion, most important ones, are Mobile Optimization, Personalization, and Same Day Delivery. These trends all go hand-in-hand due to the fact that E-commerce is evolving to better serve consumers across the world. With this evolution comes many improvements to the current system, and these changes are all connected to one another. Let’s take a look at these three trends, and see how they interact!

Mobile Optimization is perhaps one of the more noticeable trends you’ll see this coming year. In the past, businesses spent a lot of time and money on their websites, figuring that consumers were going to make the majority of their purchases using their computers. Nowadays, the average person owns a smartphone or a tablet, and is able to make those same purchases on the go. It is vital for businesses to have their websites be mobile friendly, and for them to streamline their original sites to make a more cohesive virtual storefront for shoppers. You’ll begin to see more mobile sites that are very user-friendly, instead of the slow to load, full of extra content, and badly sized mobile sites of the past. Additionally, these new mobile sites will be the first priority for businesses. Instead of getting their main website up first, companies will be focusing first on launching a fully-loaded app or site, optimized for mobile devices. This takes us straight to the next trend.

Personalization means several things in the E-commerce world. It means that consumers will more frequently have the ability to customize their merchandise before purchasing it. For instance, Coca-Cola now gives you the ability to order Coke cans with your name on them. You can pick the exact color of your new bicycle, change the handlebars to fit your hand size, and buy tire caps in the exact color of your choice, all at Heritage General Store, based in Chicago.

Personalization also means that the world of E-commerce is beginning to recognize the consumer base as individuals, not just one mass of buyers who all want the same thing. This is very important, because it ties in with marketing trends that are also changing. Based on customer’s purchasing history, businesses can now use data they’ve collected to more effectively target people with specific ads. The more efficient these advertising methods become, the higher the percentage of return shoppers. Personalization is key to the success of E-commerce businesses.

Finally, Same Day Delivery  (or next day)is going to become standard in the next couple  of years. With it becoming increasingly important for businesses to have an E-commerce presence, everyone is suddenly online trying to sell their products. This mass influx of business is creating stiff competition for retailers, and they are now looking for ways to one-up their competitors. Along with offering improved mobile sites and personalized products, they have realized the importance of prompt delivery services as well. In light of Amazon’s recent declaration to begin Drone Deliveries (after the FAA changes some airspace regulations), IBM has been looking for a way to compete with this new standard. They announced on June 11, 2014 that they will now be offering same-day delivery services through a partnership with a start-up called Deliv.  I predict we’ll be seeing a lot more similar announcements in the coming months.

In conclusion, the world we are familiar with is rapidly changing to incorporate new technologies (3D Printers!) and social trends. We are in for one heck of a ride in the next couple of decades! It is very exciting to see so much focus on individual consumers finally, and these trends I’ve mentioned are just the beginning of what I believe is going to be a future brimming with endless possibilities. E-commerce will be around until the end of civilization, so we can expect to continue to see a lot more customization, excellent service, and user-friendly formats.

Spring 2014 Final – Part 1

Defining Social Networks and Online Communities:

1. General Communities

This refers to websites that encourage users to share interesting content, make plans, create events, and just socialize.  A good example is Bolt.com, one of the first social networking sites to pop up in the late 90s. In the case of Bolt.com, the site used corporate sponsorship to generate revenue. They featured ads from Verizon, Sony, and Gilette, to name a few.

2. Practice Networks

These sites are similar to general communities, in the sense that many of them offer the same features. However, they are specifically tailored for certain professional interests, such as art, music, or career networking. Deviantart is a fabulous example of a practice network. Here, a collection of professional and amateur artists gather to share their artwork, give feedback to one another, and even shop for prints of your favorite work. This is how the site produces revenue, by C2C transactions which they then receive a percentage of.

3. Interest Based Communities

An Interest Based Community differs only slightly from a Practice Network. While a practice network is for professionals, an Interest based community is for anyone with a specific interest in a certain subject. It could be about DIY crafts, home-brewed beer, or cooking (can you tell I’m hungry?). The site 4chan is a decent example. It was created initially for users to share images of their favorite anime and manga (Japanese cartoons), and to comment on each other’s posts. According to the founder of the 4chan, it is an income generating site but he was very vague on the specifics.

4. Affinity Communities

Affinity Communities are based on demographic information. There are communities for men, women, immigrants, people of very specific ethnic heritages, the list goes on. If you belong to a particular group, say you’re Jewish – there’s an affinity community site out there for your social networking needs. For example, Schtik is a site just for Jews who want to meet other Jews from around the world. You can share videos and pictures, create a blog, and chat with your fellow Jews. It’s kind of awesome. As for generating income, the site has a few banner ads from Adidas, so my guess is they make a little money off sponsorship ads from several companies.

5. Sponsored Communities

Sponsored Communities are sites created by businesses, political organizations, and sometimes even for not-for profit entities, for multiple purposes. Usually, the goal seems to be to keep consumers feeling involved in the brand, talking to each other about the product, and generating more interest in the company. In the case of a non-profit organization creating a sponsored community, the site is likely built to keep interested parties in the loop with events, and to give them a forum to discuss issues related to the cause. An example of a sponsored community is Coca Cola. They are a giant company, and I’m sure they generate a lot of revenue from their website. You can order their products directly from the website.

Defining Portals:

6. Enterprise Portals

The best way to explain an Enterprise portal is to think of it like this: A private corporation or organization’s general purpose portal. You come to work, log in, and go to your company’s enterprise portal. This site will help you access HR, maybe view your previous paychecks, see what’s new with the company, and provide some of the same features as a general purpose portal (see below). The site is tailored for the specific organization and the people affiliated with it. For instance, when I worked for Grange Insurance, we had an enterprise portal for employees. It was pretty helpful and had all sorts of cool features to make work interesting, educational, and fun. They had a few apps and games, which I’m sure they made some profit from, as well as subscription services if you wanted to upgrade the content of the site.

7. General Purpose Portals

These portals are designed to take care of your every need. They don’t want you to navigate away from the site, so they give you every possibly feature available: email, blogging, chatting, social networking, news, videos, music, stock market ticker, you name it. Google is working on becoming one of these General Purpose portals. They offer all sorts of options to customize your homepage to include your Gmail inbox, keep track of your interests (or your friend’s comings and goings) and yada yada. A general purpose portal can make money several different ways. They can offer free services, but have you pay subscription fees to use others. They also feature advertisements both on the main site and within apps and games featured on the site.

8. Vertical Market Portals

This type of portal is much more focused than general content portals. Lately, vertical market portals have been adding some of the same typical features of general content portals, such as weather and news, in an attempt to retain a larger audience. However, these portals are created for specific interests. They usually fall into one of two categories: Affinity groups or Focused content groups.  For example, WebMD is a great place to self-diagnose your health problems, learn about new medical breakthroughs, and read up on all things health-related. They feature some banner ads here and there, and offer services that you can only access after signing up.

9. Affinity Groups

Affinity groups refer to portal sites that cater to communities of people who all have certain demographic/interest based similarities (see Affinity Communities above for clarification). An example would be JBC.org (The Journal of Biological Chemistry) which is a site that caters to the scientific community. You can access all sorts of interesting information in this website. They generate revenue using banner ads.

10. Focused Content Groups

A focused content group is a portal for much more specific interest groups. For example, the World Cup is going on this month and milllions of people are checking Fifa.com daily to see updated scores and watch replays. You can access ticket information, purchase fan memorabilia, and play games. All of these features are part of how the site earns money from visitors.

 

3 Trends in E-Commerce to Keep An Eye On in 2014

This is an exciting time for E-Commerce. Each year, online sales are increasing by leaps and bounds. In the first business Quarter of 2014, E-Commerce made up 6.2% of retail sales in the U.S. (roughly $67 Million), compared to 5.5% in the first Quarter of 2013. Globally, online sales are projected to pass the $1.5 Trillion mark this year. Like I said, exciting times!

Because of the earning potential in this market, retailers worldwide are keeping a close eye on several up-and-coming trends in E-Commerce. They are:

1. Using Mobile as a primary touch point, rather than a second option, as they have in the past. This change of focus reflects the fact that more and more consumers have access to mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, and purchasing trends are changing swiftly. “[In] 2013 during Black Friday, it has been reported that 40% of all the online shopping were done through smartphones and tablets. In 2012, that number was much lower with mobile sales on ecommerce websites coming in at 6%. If there was a 36% increase in just one year, you can expect that number to be even higher when Black Friday comes around again this 2014 holiday season.” (http://merchantbusinessacademy.com/ecommerce-2/3-ecommerce-trends-for-2014-that-you-need-to-know). Once retailers get with the program, we’ll be seeing more purchasing options via mobile, rather than being redirected to a website for the final sale transaction.

2. Personalization and Targeting will improve greatly. Businesses are figuring out that using every little bit of data they can get from consumers is incredibly helpful with targeted marketing approaches. As the consumer base becomes more and more focused on a personalized shopping experience where they get to specify their preferences and have a hand in designing custom-made items, it is imperative that businesses use a more personalized marketing approach as well. With analytic programs improving every quarter, companies can now take all the small data they collect (or buy from other companies) and use this to narrow down which customer is interested in what product, at what time, in what location, and which advertising method works best with each individual. It’s rather incredible really. As this trend continues to grow, so too shall the analytic software and other advertising tools improve rapidly.

3. Same Day Delivery.
Now that Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and promised to begin using drones (when the FAA adjusts certain regulations) to deliver certain eligible products within 30 minutes of purchase, the race has begun to increase delivery speeds. Consumers have begun to expect immediate fulfillment of goods and services, and we can now look forward to a time when ordering shoes online means seeing them appear at our doorstep an hour later. These growing expectations mean that other retailers will have to keep up or be left behind in the Amazonian dust. Why would anyone bother with a site that sells fabulous products for cheap, but takes 3-5 business days to ship (with additional charges), when Amazon has all but eradicated that old fashioned “the longer they make me wait, the more excited I’ll be for my new product” mentality?

Welcome to the future of E-Commerce.

3 Reasons We Shouldn’t Tax E-Commerce

Reason Number One: According to a recent survey, 61% of participants disagreed with the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act. That’s over half of our country’s population. If the bill goes through, 44% of voters say they will buy less online. Imagine the potential consequences! If people start refusing to buy online because they’ll have to pay sales tax, we’ll start seeing a serious decline in our recovering economy. Sure, they can spend that same money in a brick-and-mortar store, but they can also choose to go make their purchases in a state with no sales tax! It’s kind of a no-brainer for me, at least. Why pay sales tax if you can avoid it altogether? Nobody likes taxes, especially in our current economic situation.

Reason Number Two: Giant retailers such as Ebay and Etsy, with private seller communities, fear the MFA will hurt these smaller entities. The MFA requires online companies with annual sales over $1 million to collect state and sales tax on all purchases. Some of these sellers have net profits well below that $1 million mark (or no profit at all), yet on paper have surpassed it with their gross sales and they will still be required to collect those taxes (http://marketingland.com/online-sales-tax-whyecommerce-companies-are-on-both-sides-of-the-debate-43395). Ultimately, this could have a very negative impact on their financial well-being. Regardless of the MFA’s good intentions, it will still be hurting the little people.

Reason Number Three: One argument for the MFA is that it will level the economic playing field, giving smaller brick-and-mortar businesses a better chance at competing with the online companies which haven’t been charging sales tax. However, technically the playing field is already level. Brick-and-mortar businesses and E-commerce businesses each pay state and sales tax (as long as they have a Nexus), according to state and federal tax laws. The MFA will just impose more regulations and further complicate already complicated tax procedures and requirements. Additionally, The MFA requires all online retailers use specific software to assist with the new tax collecting requirements, which means hiring more specially trained employees – yet another drain on finances and human resources.

Why E-Commerce Should be Taxed

Taxation of online transactions is currently a hotly debated issue in the E-commerce world, as well as in the judicial system. Before online transactions were commonplace, the rule was that if you lived in a state with sales tax, you paid sales tax on your transactions. If you lived in a state without sales tax then you were exempt from paying the sales tax. The internet has gone and complicated yet another good thing, of course.

Now, retailers who sell goods and services online have to be very careful. If they have a physical presence (aka Nexus)  within the state their customer is ordering from, and that state has a sales tax, then they can charge sales tax on the transaction. If they are engaging in a transaction with a customer from a state where they have no Nexus, then they do NOT have to collect sales tax (http://www.sba.gov/content/collecting-sales-tax-over-internet). Little did I know, before researching this subject, that in these cases, the customer is responsible for still paying that tax, except it isn’t considered sales tax, it is then called “use tax“. Definitely worth looking into so the IRS doesn’t come after you!

Statistics show that in 2013 the United States lost nearly $23 Billion in uncollected sales tax. (http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/79544.html). In 2012, Washington State alone had $281,900,000 worth of uncollected sales tax due to online transactions (http://www.ncsl.org/research/fiscal-policy/collecting-ecommerce-taxes-an-interactive-map.aspx). “Sales taxes account for over a third of revenues for most states, including over half of tax collections for six states.” “With nearly every state still facing budget shortfalls, this revenue could help fund police, school teachers and other much-needed programs.”(http://www.ncsl.org/research/fiscal-policy/collecting-ecommerce-taxes-an-interactive-map.aspx). So tax reform is upon us once again, and this time it’s taking on E-commerce.

“The U.S. Senate voted May 6, 2013 to approve the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), S. 743, by a vote of 69-27. The NCSL-supported legislation is now before the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee for consideration. The MFA authorizes states that adhere to certain simplifications to require out-of-state retailers that have more than $1 million a year in out-of-state sales to collect and remit that state’s sales taxes. The legislation also requires states to provide software to online retailers free of charge and removes any liability from the retailer should the software malfunction” (http://www.ncsl.org/research/fiscal-policy/collecting-ecommerce-taxes-an-interactive-map.aspx). The MFA is being championed by many retailers, as well as The National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Retail Federation.

At the same time, there are several larger business such as Ebay and Etsy, that feel that the MFA is going to ruin things for their independent sellers. The sellers don’t necessarily meet the $1M a year cap that the bill imposes, and in the bigger picture, this could take a huge bite out of profits.  Another issue opponents cite, is that the bill is not nearly as detailed as it needs to be to adequately attend to the needs of each and every business it covers.  Additionally, the software requirement does not completely remove the necessity of having a human being processing all the complicated sales tax issues each business will face. This means that more funds will be allocated towards new positions, and in turn, there will be smaller profits for companies (http://marketingland.com/online-sales-tax-whyecommerce-companies-are-on-both-sides-of-the-debate-43395).

As much as I’d love to not pay sales tax on internet transactions, I really think that given all the evidence available, the smartest thing to do is to find a way to require and regulate sales tax be paid on online purchases. The MFA can be amended down the road to cover all potential issues that arise, and the long-term effects of the bill being put into action will help bolster our nation financially.  If you’re looking for a way around paying sales tax, you can find one if you do your research. Otherwise, every time you see those extra dollars on your bill, just think about how you’re contributing to our economy’s growth!

Does E-Commerce Need Social Media?

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram each have millions of users, so it seems logical that E-commerce businesses would jump at the opportunity to utilize them for marketing purposes. Many companies have done just this, and have seen mixed results in their ROI in social media. This begs the question: Is using social media integral to the success of E-commerce businesses?

In my search for answers, I came across relatively few articles that were in favor of returning to the Dark Ages of advertising. Even the ones that featured negative reviews of using social media for marketing, came around by the conclusion and admitted that they were better off having attempted a foray into the world of Facebook than not taking the chance.

One such article focused mainly on the fact that social media might not be the best platform for smaller businesses, because it is harder to generate business when nobody has heard of you before. According to the article, “About 61% of small businesses don’t see any return on investment on their social-media activities, according to a survey released Tuesday from Manta, a social network for small businesses.”  Apparently, a lot of small businesses make the mistake of jumping on the trending wagon and attempt to use only social media, rather than stick to a marketing mix they know works for them.

Many of these people are not social media marketing pros, they just assume that since everyone else is doing it, it must work. They don’t necessarily have the know-how or skills to use the analytic software offered by these sites, to help them determine how effective this new method is for their business. Additionally, studies have shown that “despite the popularity of using social media for marketing purposes, less than 1% of traffic to the [E-commerce] sites came from social network sites.” If this is true, then why is the use of social media still so prevalent with E-commerce businesses? Let’s take a look at why it is still such a popular trend.

Bitcoin: the Next Generation of Virtual Currency?

For those of you unfamiliar with Bitcoin, allow me to explain in layman’s terms what exactly I am referring to. Bitcoin is a form of unregulated digital currency created by an open source software (accessible to and editable by anyone) developer named Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. There is some speculation as to who exactly Satoshi Nakamoto is, and many theories focus on the idea of the name being a pseudonym for a group of developers, instead of an individual. How exciting and mysterious!

There are several ways to get Bitcoins. You can buy or sell them with real currency on a Bitcoin Exchange, transfer them from one person to another using mobile apps or computers, or “mine” for them by using your computer to solve intricate math puzzles. Every time the computer solves a problem, you are rewarded with Bitcoins, which then are transferred into your Digital Wallet (virtual bank account) for safekeeping. This process is referred to as “Bitcoin Mining”.

Bitcoin can be used by anyone in the world with internet access, and competes with other forms of digital currency like Dogecoin (Twitter’s version) and Reddcoin (Reddit’s version). Essentially, digital currency gains value as more and more people utilize it, like a stock, so some people choose to invest their money in Bitcoins, hoping the value will increase.  Bitcoin uses no third party, so there are no transaction fees, which appeals to small businesses. Also, you are not required by anyone to verify your identity at any point during the transaction process, which appeals to anyone wishing for anonymity. There are many other reasons to use Bitcoin as well.

As novel and handy a system as this is, I have to wonder if it will cause some political issues down the road (if it isn’t already?). I can only imagine that with the ease of use of the Bitcoin exchanges, money transfers are happening stateside that involve criminal activities, probably on a daily basis. Because of the nature of Bitcoin – deregulated currency and highly anonymous transaction system – this must pose quite a problem for the governments of the world if they are trying to crack down on international crime. On the other hand,  if any particular government decided to suddenly ban Bitcoin from use in their country, it could potentially create a steep decline in Bitcoin value. As long as politics and Bitcoin don’t come head to head, I think the value of Bitcoin will continue to increase as it becomes more popular.

At this point, having learned quite a bit about Bitcoin recently, I may choose to invest in it after a period of observation. I believe that at some point in the next 50 years or so we will have developed some form of global currency, and it will most likely be digital. Bitcoin may be its great Granddaddy, or it may be the Beast we’re all trading with 50 years down the road. Either way, if it continues to  grown in popularity, and in turn, in value, I don’t see how it will disappear anytime soon. So…let the mining begin!

 

 

The difference between Malware, Viruses, Worms, and Trojan Horses. Plus, What’s a Backdoor?

There are so many different ways to infect a computer with malicious programming, and so many different terms to keep straight! Here is a simple breakdown to help you understand the basics.

1. Malware is a broad term used to refer to any type of malicious code. It can be a Virus, Worm, Trojan Horse, etc.

2. A Virus acts just like a biological virus. It has the ability to replicate itself and spread throughout your computer, infecting the whole thing and potentially causes irreparable damage if you don’t remove it quickly.

3. I like to think of Worms as Super Viruses. They are not contained to one computer, but can travel between computers on a network and infect multiple machines.

4. Trojan Horses are pretty much self explanatory. They were named for the story of the Trojan Horse, where an entire army hid inside a large wooden horse, and once it was wheeled into the enemy’s city, they jumped out and had the upper hand in a vicious attack. This form of Malware is disguised as a harmless code, but once it is in your computer it acts maliciously.

5. A Backdoor is something computer programmers use to access programs remotely, usually for updating or maintenance reasons.  However, sometimes these Backdoors can be used by hackers to gain access to your system for nefarious purposes. Some Malware will have backdoors built into their codes, so that once your computer is infected, the hackers will be able to remotely access your system

Identity Theft on a VERY Personal Note

Today my home was broken into, and multiple personal documents were stolen from a lock box. Social security numbers, birth certificates, a house key, and other irreplaceable items are now floating around out there in the big, bad world. The feeling in my stomach is one of I don’t wish on anyone I care for.

It’s scary enough that someone came into the house in broad daylight, while somebody was home even, but the fact that they targeted only our personal identification papers (and some random pieces of jewelry), but left valuables like the nice TV, several laptops, an Xbox, and other assorted items of value, is what freaks me out the most. It made me realize that in this day and age, our identities are sometimes worth more than the things we spend the most money on. 

Being a researcher by nature, I immediately went online (after we filed a police report) to see what else I could do to protect myself from Identity Theft. This website has a bunch of helpful tips for those of you who aren’t familiar with the topic, and I have since followed up by taking several precautions. I even went so far as to notify Experian just in case someone tries to use my information to open a new line of credit. 

It has come to my attention now that there are more malicious forms of cyber ID fraud than I had ever imagined. Unfortunately, it took having my home broken into for me to realize just how prevalent this type of crime has become all over our country. According to the Seattle Police Department, “Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America.” Now, in addition to vigilantly locking our doors and taking part in the Neighborhood Watch, we have to worry about crazy people stealing passwords to our email accounts, online banking services, and literally anywhere else personal information is stored online. Scary, huh? 

Hackers use the stolen information in a myriad of ways, too. They can sell your data to companies for marketing purposes, use your bank accounts for personal purchases – which may put you in a serious financial quandary or ruin your credit, apply for jobs or student financial aid using your identity, or even commit crimes that will be tied to you. These are just a few potential consequences of identity theft. 

This type of crime seems so trivial when it isn’t happening to you. Just the name “identity theft” is a little silly (there’s even a movie that makes fun of this situation), but the harsh reality is that this is happening all around us, on a daily basis. There are only so many precautions we can take, and NOBODY is 100% safe. So, change your passwords frequently, don’t give out your personal information unless it’s on secured sites (even then, be cautious), and for the love of Pete Carroll, lock your doors people!

 

Facebook’s Foray Into the E-Money Market

If you pay attention to the big movers and shakers in social networking, you may have heard recently that Facebook is about to get involved in the rapidly growing world of mobile payments. For those unfamiliar with the idea, check out the Infograph below!Image

Facebook is awaiting approval from the Central  Bank of Ireland to begin offering this new service to their users.  If the Bank approves, Facebookers will be able to directly exchange funds through the site and the social networking monster will have yet another edge on its competition. The revenue possibilities are endless once Facebook makes this move.

The use of E-money has been sort of hit or miss since it emerged in the e-commerce world. It seems consumers are a bit wary of placing their trust solely  in digital money and online-only banking entities. Personally, I have only used Google Wallet (another Mobile Payment Platform) a handful of times for that same reason. It’s easy to spend out of control when all you have to do is tap your screen or push a button. The process of handing paper money over to a cashier makes the transaction seem more tangible, and this keeps me from going over my budget.

On the other hand, when you think about how much simpler mobile payments could make your life, it appears that there are enough benefits to outweigh my old-fashioned sensibilities.  Imagine this scenario: you owe an old buddy from college a couple hundred bucks for some favor they did you years ago. You keep in touch sporadically, via Facebook, because you live on the other side of the globe. One day, you decide to finally pay off that debt you owe, so instead of writing a check, wiring the money overseas, or doing something nutty like mailing cash, you simply make a quick transaction on Facebook and send it directly to your friend’s mobile wallet. How awesome is that?!

With global mobile transactions projected to increase “at an average 35 percent per year between 2012 and 2017″ (Yahoo! Article), and a user base of over 1 Billion people globally, Facebook is making big moves to corner this up-and-coming trend in the marketspace. I guess we’ll just have to sit back and watch to find out whether or not 1/7 of the world’s population is going to say “Sayonara” to physical cash.