Critical factors affecting intermediary web site adoption understanding how to extend eparticipation

Increased business efficiency, enhanced information flows, improved transaction speed, wider geographical spread, increased temporal reach, cost reduction and competitive differentiation for e-enabled constituents result when the members of a supply chain are able to share information, to buy, sell and distribute products or services and to transfer cash flow online. A key element is the company website, which typically combines sales and marketing functions. Intermediary websites provide a key interface between the supplier and the marketplace. Consequently, adoption and use of websites by intermediaries can benefit an extended supply chain.

Harrison and Waite examine intermediary e-commerce development in the context of UK independent financial advisers involved in the distribution of medium and long-term investment products. The research focuses specifically on the adoption and use of websites, the factors influencing initial adoption, the characteristics of adopters and the patterns of website use.

Firms were classified into categories based on the number of years the company had possessed a website: innovators (between seven and ten years); early adopters (at least five years but less than seven years); early majority (at least three years but less than five years); late majority (less than three years); and laggards (currently developing a site).

The research reveals that innovators and early adopters tend to be mainly the larger firms with larger turnovers. Small and medium-size firms - which make up a large proportion of the financial intermediary sector - may lack the resources to set up and maintain their own websites. Moreover, due to the size and degree of fragmentation of the financial intermediary market, product providers have tended to develop relationships with a number of preferred intermediaries, developing proprietary technology and networks. This tailoring of developments to typically larger organizations could be a barrier to e-market participation for smaller firms.

Innovators and early adopters are more likely to have a clearer reason for developing a website and are making most advanced use of it. None of the innovators in the research uses the website purely as brochure-ware and 44 per cent offer clients the opportunity to apply for and/or buy products online. The early adopters and early majority show a greater propensity to use the website for providing product information, whereas the late majority show a greater propensity not to provide any products on the website, suggesting the greatest likelihood of using the web as a brochure or static advertisement.

Innovators' and early adopters' website adoption tends to be planned and deliberate, consistent with the overall business strategy. These factors have obvious benefits for both suppliers and customers.

The early majority are mainly influenced by the actions of competitors and appear to be operating a "copy cat" strategy. The late majority and laggards are mostly influenced by

opportunities that arose or were presented to them to take advantage of website technology - particularly services offered by information technology or software developers.

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