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complexities of doing business in our virtual age, looking in particular at e-commerce but also asking how the presence of e-commerce on the market has affected traditional businesses as well. Once upon a time - that golden age - things were simple. You decided you wanted to grow up to be a bookstore owner. Or a hardware store manager. Or a florist. So you leased a store, bought some books, and lovingly hand-sold them to each customer who flocked to your door and then went home at night to count your money.
Of course, owning a bookstore or a hardware store or a flower shop was actually never that simple. But the picture now is even more complicated as virtual stores have entered the picture. Part of what makes engaging in e-commerce so difficult is that there are no paths that others have trod before one. And the costs of making mistakes in the field can be substantial: A badly designed website can make all the difference not only for a single sale but for the entire future of a company. This dissertation examines the rhetoric if websites, arguing that creating a good website is possible for any business that takes care to attend to a set of fundamental rules of rhetoric.
This research thus examines one of the most important elements of e-commerce. We should thus perhaps begin with a definition of what e-commerce is, which is actually harder to do than one might think. While the lines between traditional (i.e. brick-and-mortar) businesses were fairly clear-cut at the beginning of the Internet revolution, they have been getting fuzzier and fuzzier ever since. For example, the Amish craftspeople working in Pennsylvania and Ohio, living modest and humble and God-centered lives, would seem to be about as far as it is possible to be removed from the dotcom world. But the Amish sell their products over the Internet, and do it professionally and efficiently. When you have the Amish entering into business that uses the electronic resources of our age and especially the Internet, then it is clear that there can no longer be traditional distinctions made between old-fashioned and up-to-the-minute technologies.
But even given the fact that nearly every business today has some elements of e-commerce in it, we may still define e-commerce to include only those businesses that rely for a significant amount of their revenues (perhaps 25%) from the Internet. It is these businesses, or rather the websites that serve as the public portal of these businesses, that are the focus of this research.
In look at the relative effectiveness of certain kinds of websites, we are also asking what sets these e-businesses apart from other types of business in terms of marketing? In some key ways less than one might think because marketing does not exist in an institutional vacuum. This is the first essential thing to remember about e-commerce: The essentials of good business practices have not changed because the Internet is now involved and the rhetoric of persuasion and information remain much the same.
The second most important issue to remember concerning e-commerce is that while managing a virtual firm is in some ways different from (and in certain ways more difficult than) managing a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, most of the fundamental skills of designing and implementing effective marketing techniques are transferable from more traditional forms of business. In whatever form of business one is in management is essentially the process of managing people, and people are relatively the same if they are working on an assembly line, at a phone back, or in the fields (http://www.interwoven.com/solutions/industry/retail.html).
But, having just made the claim that in many ways businesses virtual and real are more similar than one might initially suspect, we must now make a counterclaim, or at least a partial counterclaim, and this is our third most important point to be made about e-commerce: There are significant differences between doing virtual business and doing business the old-fashioned way and the most important differences between managing a traditional business and running a virtual one come in the arena of marketing the product or services that that company offers (www.interwoven.com).
We should perhaps here provide a basic definition of what marketing itself is, or at least how we are using the term in the context of this paper. We may consider marketing to include, in general, each and every activity that is required for and involved in getting the services or goods in question from the producer to the consumer. This sounds perhaps a little overly complicated than is necessary, but that is only because we have phrased common activities such as running ads in a daily newspaper in a somewhat abstract way.
The specific content of marketing activities has changed very dramatically over the last century - and has in fact probably changed during the last week. The very first marketing techniques were essentially mirrors of the production process itself, and might today be called transportation (of the goods from the site of manufacture to the consumer) rather than marketing proper.
Now, however, marketing is much more pervasive (indeed it seems to have achieved the level of omnipresence). Marketing forces may now well be the primary force behind a new product: In large corporations the marketing functions precede the manufacture of a product. Companies come up with an idea, do "market" research on it to determine if there might be people willing to pay for such a product, and only after they determine this to be the case does the product itself actually appear. Marketing now often occupies a substantial amount of a firm's time and money as it has come to include all of the researching and development of new products.
This dissertation investigates the connections between the rhetorical underpinnings of website discourse and the effectiveness of getting customers to buy from those companies that rely for at least 25% of their business on websites, an investigation that will rely on both semiotic analysis as well as ethnographic methods (especially open-ended interviews) of some of the natives of this world.
Given both the globalization of the economy and increasing business dependence on e-commerce, the effectiveness of website design is a key question both for those in business and for consumers.
Marketing in its current form concentrates primarily on the consumers rather than on the production end of the process by attempting to determine their needs and desires (which are not, of course, at all the same thing) as well as by "educating" the consumers about the availability of a company's products and the specific features of those products.
It is in this area where one of the great challenges exists for the designer of websites (and the owners of any e-commerce firm). Traditional stores have - well, they have stores. Physical structures into which people can walk to look at the merchandise. They can be cajoled in off the sidewalk by brightly lettered signs in the windows. They know to look for furniture sales at certain times of the year and for car sales at others because these events have occurred for decades. And they find themselves walking into a bookstore at the mall because of the piles of new and bright and shiny bestsellers spilling out into the window casements.
Websites have no such traditions and few of these same mechanisms to draw on in marketing his or her company's goods or services, and no physical embodiment of the company's goods as does a traditional store. Of course, in a blended business, the manager may well indeed have a traditional store to work out of along with his or her company's Internet facilities, thus combining the virtues - along with the drawbacks - of both and suggesting that the future of e-commerce may well be in such hybrid forms.
Thus the e-commerce store owner may spend a great deal of time tearing out his (or her) hair over how to develop strategies to persuade consumers to buy the company's product. This is why, at least until that late unfortunateness in the high-tech sector, the mantra of the dotcom world has been "market share, market share, market share," which is another way of saying that the e-business owner has to fight nearly constantly to get her or his company's name in front of the public. No product or service is so good that it sells itself. People still have to be informed that it is out there to be bought. And the tools that they have to persuade people to buy are as new as pixels and as old as human discourse.
a. Describe the Who, What Where, When, Why and How of the Problem. Be Specific! What is the problem? Why is it a Problem? Who is involved? What is the environmental context? What is the historical context of the problem? Why is it important? (Just a brief overview here but this is more fully done in a later section)?…[continue]
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