Newham Online at UEL's Innovation and Growth Conference

Online commerce and the local economy

Forecasters anticipate 300 million online users by the year 2000 as compared with 40 million at the end of '97. Today the Net is used mainly for providing information and communicating by eMail but online commerce is taking off. Forrester Research forecasts the market on the Net will be worth 327,000 million US dollars in the year 2000 compared to 8,000 million in 1997. Put another way a growth of almost 4000% in three years.

Threats and opportunities

The boom in online commerce will provide massive opportunities for UK companies. If these opportunities are not seized the rolling out of the information highway will just be a case of us building the roads for import penetration. Come to that we will be importing much of the "roads" as well!

The rise of www.amazon.com to the position of the world's biggest bookshop provides a warning of things to come. It is easier, quicker and cheaper for me to buy a book from Amazon than it is from Foyles. More importantly I enjoy Amazon's "personal" recommendations of the books that I might like to read and the opportunity to share my opinions with other readers. As a result of this, and other online purchases, my Visa card has recently shown a greater spending in dollars than in pounds.

Large companies such as BT are positioning themselves to take advantage of the boom in online commerce and you can expect to see at least one supermarket chain offering "own brand" Internet Services later this year. Supermarkets already provide financial services so providing branded Internet access will be a further major element towards Net based shopping. I look forward to ordering on the Net and paying a delivery charge in order to avoid shopping "in" Sainsburys. However a consequence would be that I will be very unlikely to buy fruit and vegetables from the stalls in Stratford Market that I currently pass on my way to the supermarket. Can't see this happening locally for a couple of years though.

So where does this leave Small and Medium Sized Enterprises? One of the incredible things about the Net is that it is possible to be small and global. I recently purchased a bouquet for an aunt living in Canada. I found a small local florist through a quick search on the Web and used their Web site to choose the flowers, type a message and pay. This is already possible in the US and Canada, why not in the UK?

What we are doing

We are working to create an online environment for people who live work or study in the borough and for the organisations and businesses that serve it. This network will support the local economy by making it more convenient for local people to buy locally. Our partners can also assist businesses to acquire the tools and skills needed to sell online. We are working with national initiatives such as UK Internet Gateway and UK Communities Online to ensure that local businesses get the best possible online profile. What we envisage is not an online shopping mall but rather a vibrant community involving people from all backgrounds who will use the network to exchange information, learn, communicate, have fun and of course do business.

Who we are

Newham Online is a partnership of academic, private, public and not for profit organisations working together to ensure that maximum local benefit is obtained from the development of information and communication technologies. Aston Charities, Newham Council, Newham Recorder and the University of East London are founding partners but the partnership now involves many other organisations. We are particularly keen to invite more locally based businesses into the partnership particular those already using eMail.

How to contact us

If you would like to get involved in Newham Online contact its Co-ordinator, preferably by eMail: richard.stubbs@newham.org.uk or on 0181 534 6891. We are also creating a web site to support our work at www.newham.org.uk.

Richard Stubbs - 10th. March 98. - Personal opinions!