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An easy lesson in e-commerce|
By Karen Tuohey Wing
| By all accounts, e-commerce is in a hyper-growth stage. During 2002, online sales were measured in billions; worldwide net commerce sales in trillions. This year, ACNielsen estimates that more than 50 million households will be online, and more than 42 million will be buying online. For business owners, the Internet offers vast potential to generate business and to save money. The key is knowing how.|
To help improve the e-commerce opportunity available to Pennsylvania businesses, the Penn State Capital Region Outreach Council supported the initiative that enables Penn States Cooperative Extension agents to offer an E-Commerce course. During four three-hour sessions, businesspeople can learn how to use the potential of the Internet. Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of creating a Web site, the E-Commerce course offers strategies for using the Internet to find information on competitors, clients and resources, as well as how to effectively develop an Internet business plan and establish a Web presence.
This program was piloted by the University of Minnesota Extension and is managed by Bill Shuffstall, senior Cooperative Extension agent at University Park.
Currently 14 agents across the state can deliver the program, and were continuing to expand as we build partnerships with Economic Development Corporations and Chambers of Commerce across the state, Shuffstall said.
Another unique aspect of the outreach partnership is the association with PENNTAP. Dr. Michelle S. Rodgers, regional director for the Capital Region of Cooperative Extension and Outreach, said, In addition to the collaboration with Continuing Education and Cooperative Extension to deliver this program, referrals are also made back and forth with the PENNTAP e-commerce programs. Individual technical assistance provided by PENNTAP further addresses specific business needs that occur once e-commerce is established.
Shuffstall sees this course as a way of helping Pennsylvania businesses move into the information age. Most business owners are too busy to take a long-term course. This is a way for them to quickly learn about the Web and develop an e-business component.
Winifred McGee, Lebanon County extension director, and Laura Watts, associate extension agent in Cumberland County, teach the E-Commerce course in the Capital Region.
We cover everything from direct mailing to e-mailing, McGee said. We also spend a lot of time looking at strategies other businesses have found to be successful. Some people find products or services links that have never occurred to them before and can be used to help them capture a niche market.
We also provide tips on how to strategically register a Web site, so it will attract more attention and, most importantly, we discuss how to put together an Internet business plan. We do it step-by-step, with benchmarks and data, then we follow-up with reminders.
McGee and Watts have served the needs of retailers, manufacturers and Webmasters looking to improve their skills.
Dave Sklar, owner of Bleacher Bums, said, Penn States E-Commerce class was an eye-opening experience.
I thought I had my company Web site under control. However, I realized from Laura and Winifred that I only covered the tip of the iceberg. My site (http://www.bbums.com/) was up and running, but that didnt mean anyone was going to find me. With their help, I am now accessible.
The E-Commerce course is just the beginning of this initiative. Penn State Cooperative Extension agents also are offering an E-Government course targeted to local and county government agencies. A third course, targeted to nonprofit agencies, currently is being field tested at the University of Minnesota Extension, with plans to bring it to Pennsylvania in the future.