From the fetishism of technology to online order fetishism

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The identification of e-commerce in online sales alone seems untenable. It is untenable because it is a non-operational casuistry. To make it operational (to lead to a measurement), it is necessary to make it a casuistry but to make it a casuistry makes it nonoperational. It is indeed necessary to examine case by case whether this or that transaction is an online sale made on a telematic network. The frontier cases are obviously numerous and will multiply and become more complex with technology.

We do not see, for example, how such a definition could survive the next development of telephony on the Internet. It will be objected that at this point, the definition of e-Best Ecommerce Company will naturally extend to the use of remote voice control. But why not include phone orders right now? What is the difference in a commercial transaction between a packet phone order and a circuit-based telephone order? The current exclusion of the telephone order is all the more unjustified as the two types of order are more complementary than substitutable.

Ordering via the internet generates numerous phone calls: one of the first conditions of success for online ordering on the internet is to set up an effective call center to answer calls from Internet users. We must beware of any technological fetishism. Because it leads to definitions of e-commerce all the less robust as the technology is scalable.

Nor can it be seen how the proposed definition could survive the growing intricacy of the virtual and physical aspects of business transactions. Thus, a commercial transaction concluded outside an electronic communication network but all other aspects of which would have such a network as support would not be electronic commerce. While a transaction that would be ordered online but all other aspects would take place offline would be ecommerce. Why grant such status to the order in relation to all other aspects of a business transaction? Why this fetishism of the order online?

There are two reasons, one symbolic, the other practical.

The symbolic reason is that electronic commerce was first represented as a virtual marketplace, a sort of return to the original market transfigured by technological modernity. Everything else seems to want to be accomplished in the virtual world: the business, the market, the teaching, the medicine, the book … before seeing that the main impact of the information and communication technologies is not to project these phenomena in a suspended space but to modify the physical conditions of their exercise: the procedures of coordination within the organizations, the physical infrastructures of the commercial activities and the way of trade, the teaching practices face to face, the doctor / patient relationship, the digital edition of physical books … The literature on virtual market places has now given way to the rediscovery of logistical constraints.

The image of e-commerce as a virtual market place no longer holds, it was necessary to fold it on a function embodying the metaphorical power of the virtual. The control function was a natural candidate because it is the first materialization of the commitment of a commercial transaction. To project the business in a virtual space – and therefore be able to talk about e-commerce – it is necessary at least to be able to imagine a buyer ordering online or even remotely.

To be convinced, just imagine the opposite case: which buyer consulting a catalog or buying on a terminal in a store could make believe that he is an actor of e-commerce? For our part, we think that this is electronic commerce. But it is true that this e-commerce, if not virtual, becomes abstract, irrepresentable: if even store buyers are e-commerce, then really what is e-commerce? A destructive doubt is established. This is why remote control is the necessary precipitate of the virtual market place.

This explains the maximum position, “fundamentalist”, taken by the working group at the CNIS (2001): any online purchase made in the seller’s store is not e-commerce. Electronic commerce is therefore explicitly identified with distance selling. The irony of history: the exploration of a new phenomenon, emblematic of the “new economy”, leads us to recover in the footsteps of an old commercial practice, the mail order, with the technological support.