The World Wide Web has attracted considerable attention from marketers in the popular business press (Verity and Hoff, 1994, p. 80-88) and academic marketing (Hoffman and Novak, 1996, p. 50-68) and practitioner (Watson, Pitt, and Akselsen, 1998, p. 36-56) journals. Understandably, at this early stage, the focus has been on the technology from a general marketing perspective or as a marketing communication medium. With few notable exceptions, less attention has been given to the Web as a potential distribution channel. However, the Web provides direct marketers with the opportunity to exploit various international markets (Harsh 1998)
Overall, the Web is best conceptualized as a developing marketing channel that transcends national boundaries and encompasses elements of informing, investigating, interacting, distribution, transacting, eliciting feedback, and supporting. In the pre-purchase stage, the Web can be used to investigate (e.g., conduct market research into consumer attitudes, needs, and wants; monitor competitors; benchmark other service organizations), for which the flow of information is primarily toward the service provider, and inform (promote, position, advertise, and inform consumers of the service and its options), for which information flows toward the consumer. In the purchase stage, the Web can be used to facilitate transaction, in which the consumer provides information regarding order specifications, payment details, and delivery; interaction, in which the consumer and service provider interact to co create unique customized service packages; and distribution, in which the provider actually distributes the service to the consumer. Finally, in the post purchase stage, the Web can be used to elicit feedback (the service provider gathers information on options, suggestions, level of satisfaction, potential loyalty, future services, and other pertinent areas), for which information flows from the consumer to the service provider, and provide support (e.g., the provider informs the consumer of new services and ways of maximizing benefits from existing services), for which information flows primarily from the service provider to the consumer.
The strength of the Web is its ability to encompass all these elements to a lesser or greater extent. Its weaknesses relate primarily to its inability to transport physical objects. Simply, though the Web is effective for the distribution of symbolic, informational, or knowledge services, it is extremely ineffective for the distribution of matter-dependent or physically embodied services. Thus, for example, though technical engineering information and advice can be conveyed between countries over the Web, the physical parts to which such technical advice pertains cannot. For each of the other elements (informing, investigating, interacting, transacting, supporting), the Web can usefully complement other more traditional marketing channels. However, as with any other medium (e.g., television, radio, print), the Web as an international marketing channel is affected in terms of its efficacy by technological, economic, physical, socio-cultural, and political-legal distance between domestic and overseas markets. Thus, a Web site based on a server in France and written in French may not be understood by a Web surfer in Brazil because of language, cultural, and allied differences. Most of the firms are using the Internet as an informational tool rather than using it as an interactive tool. The interactive potential of internet is not utilized. An online brochure is the most commonly used internet function. It is found that some existing firms are now using the Internet for the transaction with the customer. A very less number of firms are using Internet for the facilitation of relationship or transaction. Smaller firms are using less internet tools while larger firms are using significantly more Internet tools. The possible reason may that smaller firms are at the...
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