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In e-Commerce, It’s e-Quality or e-Bust

By Larry P. English, INFORMATION IMPACT International, Inc.

Email: Larry.English@infoimpact.com
Web: http://www.infoimpact.com

Larry P. English, of INFORMATION IMPACT International, Inc., Brentwood, TN, was featured as one of the “21 Voices [on quality] for the 21st Century” in the January, 2000 issue of the American Society for Quality’s Quality Progress journal. The complete Japanese edition of his book, Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality: Methods for Reducing Costs and Increasing Profits (preview it at www.infoimpact.com), is now available. He chairs the Information Quality Conferences in Anaheim and London that have several presentations on information quality in e-Business. See programs at www.information-quality.com.


A large number of failures to successfully implement e-commerce strategies are down to a lack of consideration of quality issues. Larry English discusses some of the problems and their solutions.

Two out of three online shoppers abandon their e-Commerce transaction after placing items in their shopping cart (Tony Dawe, “Human interaction to keep the customer satisfied,” The Times (London), May 15, 2000, pg. 7.). Twenty-seven percent of people in the U.S. who tried e-banking, stopped because the services were too complicated or time consuming, while another 25 percent stopped because they were unhappy with customer service (Anne R. Carey and Gary Visgaitis, “Pulling the online banking plug,” USA Today, citing Cyber Dialogue, February 12, 2000.). The harsh realities of e-Commerce are coming to light as the markets are losing their confidence in the dot.coms. Those who would conduct business in the Internet world must deliver value and quality care to the customer—not just promise and glitter:

  • Throwing up a web site will not cut it.

  • “Bolting” on e-commerce to brick-and-mortar business processes will only add to your cost-of-doing-business with sub-optimized return.

  • The magical appearance of virtual dot.com start-ups without understanding their market and the role of customer satisfaction in business success is now resulting in the “poof” of “dis-appearance” from the playing field.

The dot.com bubble of “build it and they will come” has burst with a loud truth. The reality is that without a plan for quality products, services and information that is focused on customers and meeting their real needs, a dot.com endeavor is doomed.

It all has to do with quality. And in e-business, Information Quality is even more important that in the brick and mortar establishments. That’s because:

  • Everything—except for physical products sold—is information, and

  • You no longer have complete control over the information creation processes

The First Point of information quality for brick-and-mortar or e-Business: “The obligation to the customer [knowledge worker] never ceases.”

Information Quality in e-Business

Every quality movement and methodology begins and ends with the concept of “Customer” and “Customer Satisfaction” as the focus of product development and service delivery. World-class companies who desire to stay in business—and thrive—have “Customer Satisfaction” as a key business performance measure. While some organizations are fixated on “shareholder value” as a performance measure, world-class companies recognize that their customers are the ones who pay the bills, and it is the customers they must delight for sustained success and for high shareholder value.

Because the e-Business enterprise is an information enterprise, it must provide information, products and services that “consistently meet customer expectations.” In e-Business your customers are knowledge workers who interact with your organization through the information on your web site. Data is a representation of real world objects and events, but in e-Business the web site is not just a representation of your enterprise—it is the enterprise. Without quality information about your company and services, your (information) customers may have a skewed view of who you are. Quality information means: intuitive, accurate, complete but not over-loading, and understandable without misleading. I will address these criteria in future columns. But in order to understand how to provide them, you must first understand:

Why e-Customers Return

It is easy enough to get people to visit a web site—simply manage the search engines. But it is quite another to keep customers coming back. In experience, gathered by analyzing clickstream behavior of various sites and by customer satisfaction surveys, we know you must pay attention to only a few quality characteristics. But beware, your customers will measure the quality of these characteristics, not your information quality team. Those “metrics,” and how they meet customer expectations, include:

  1. Valuable content

    Sexy graphics and animation alone will not sustain your customers’ interest. Yes, your web site must be “interesting,” but the customer must leave with knowledge that is illuminating and fulfilling. Customers must depart from your web site with increased worth and ability to more successfully meet their goals. The information your provide must be:

    • Intuitive and understandable. If they cannot easily understand the site or the information in it, you will have said, “good-by” before you are able to say, “hello.” You will likely confuse your customers if you design your web site not thinking about it from their point of reference. If you design your web site logically from your company’s view, you will virtually guarantee not meeting your customers’ view. If customers mis-interpret information and make a wrong purchase, expect returned products and non-returning customers. (World class companies rigorously analyze returns, find the root cause and fix the process causing them.)

    • Accurate content. With such wide visibility, inaccurate pricing data that favors the e-Customer will be communicated to others not by word of mouth, but at Internet speed. Ask Argos, the UK retailer that put £300.00 ($500.00) television sets on sale on the Internet for £3.00 ($5.00). But if you err not in favor of the customer, you will hear about that first.

    • Current content. Information on the Internet does not have to be bound by “information quality decay” like printed text because of its physical limitation. Information quality decay is the phenomenon that some data is inaccurate not because it was created incorrectly, but because the characteristics of the real world object represented have changed, without being updated or kept current. Information quality decay puts data in the same category as fish, smelling just as rank. I have seen software product listings on the web so out of date, there were products listed that were two company acquisitions out of date! Volatile data must have processes in place that are able to detect and capture changed data, like addresses and product prices.

    Your customers will “measure” information content value; no one else can. You know how well they value it by their return.

  2. Fast

    Fast does not mean time to market of your e-business “solution.” “Fast” as a quality measure means how quickly the customer derives value from their e-business experience.

    With people stretched for time, every second of wait time as your pages download is a second of “muda” time (muda is the Japanese word for waste) for the customer. Design your information chunks and objects to load fast. Minimize unnecessary clicking and page traversing. Do not force a mouse click when the enter key can take the visitor to the next stage.

    The quality web site will minimize the customer’s muda-time relative to the value-time of their experience.

  3. Reliable

    Your web site must be available when your customers are. When both you and your competition conducted business from “9 to 5,” your customers did not have a choice. They do now. Unscheduled down time does not just cost you the lost sales for the outage period. It costs you lost “customer lifetime value” of some of those customers who went elsewhere and liked what they found.

  4. Easy to use

    Every click that takes the customer somewhere they did not expect to go, takes them closer to the competition. Every point that confuses the customer condemns that site as a site to avoid. Every time a customer has to re-enter data they have already provided to you causes them to sense that you do not care about them or their time. If you do care you will help your customer by minimizing unnecessary re-keying, simplifying sign-ons and reusing the data they have already given you. Allow customers to update their personal data easily. If you have earned their trust (more about this in a future column), they will want you to have current and accurate data about them.

  5. Meets my expectations

    The bottom line is this. If you concentrate on helping your customers be successful in their life and work, they will be faithful to you. You must at least meet their expectations as to why they came to you. But you will not stop there if you wish to thrive. World class organizations like Custom Research, Inc. and WingspanBank.com measure their business performance based on how well they exceed their customers’ expectations.


WingspanBank.com knows the truth of these quality characteristics, and their market share growth proves it. Information quality in e-Business is, in fact, e-Business quality. Robert Rosko, Vice President of Internet Development for Wingspan sums it up, “The e-Commerce winners will be those who focus on understanding online customers and improve the quality of [their] life, not just those that get there first.”