The Pitfalls and the Prosperity of Using the Internet

McComb, Jessie F., a Fulbright Scholar, was in New Delhi for a year studying the lost wax casting process of the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh and the surrounding areas. Back in America, she is going to contribute to our website in a new series Letter from America. Ms. McComb received a BA in both Art History and Physics in 2003 from Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. In addition to her interests in Indian folk and tribal crafts, she has worked extensively with Contemporary Indian Art.

As the 21st century gets well underway and we breech the first half of the first decade of this new millennium, the truth that we are deep within the technological age has finally set. With Internet capabilities reaching far beyond first world countries and the possibilities of on-line communication, research, buying and selling delivering new opportunities into the hands of billions, technology seems like the answer to all our multi-cultural handcraft prayers. However, like all seemingly perfect tools and opportunities there are pitfalls and faults that users should know about before diving headfirst into the e-age.

With web based tools like E-bay (predated by failed companies like Eziba and others) and Google's recently launched beta trail of Google Base, selling craft on-line has become easier then ever. With a little training these tools allow craft producer and craft organizations to sell their goods directly to consumers from anywhere in the world with little knowledge of web design or publishing. The makers of these web tools have even provided the sellers with easy ways to collect money from buyers without having to set up individual credit card processing systems.

Sounds airtight, right? Well E-bay and Google have set up systems that work well for domestic sellers but leave many unanswered queries for international producers that are more familiar working with importers and large buyers. Small craft producers will still have to deal with the same issues they did when selling to an exporter in addition to other problems that come when that exporter or importer is removed. Producers who work with exporters or importers have developed knowledge and experience in shipping and packing, costing and pricing as well as quality control and buyer relationships. They have learned through time to work with their partners and built relationships that hopefully last for repeat orders over years.

But when these mediators are taken away with the processes that E-bay and Google Base have provided the topics listed above remain with additional complications added. Not only do producers have to deal with the issues of exporting and importing but they also have the woes of retailing their products. US customers in particular are obsessed with return policies and effective communication with sellers, most often small shop owners. These challenges are hard to negotiate when producers and customers are separated by oceans, continents and cultural and language barriers. More importantly, small producers usually only find production and shipping cost effective when done in larger quantities. By selling directly to individual customers, producers are being required to internationally ship each individual order, usually consisting of only a few products at most. Not only is this cost prohibitive but timely and US customers often base their satisfaction on instant gratification.

However, not all technology is bad. Much of on-line technology can be used with little or no risk for small producers in emerging nations the world over. Marketing is perhaps the best way to safely take advantage of on-line technology. Using e-mail to reach potential buyers and customers as well as keeping communication flowing is the best way to capitalize on e-technology. International buyers and importers rely mainly on e-mail communication for the majority of their business and they expect artisans to use this technology as much as they do. Since e-mail is also relatively cheap it can be the most cost effective way to marketing and communicate internationally. The Internet is also a good source of information for artisans who are looking to learn more about markets in the US and Europe without ever having to leave the internet café. Finding information about new trends and styles as well as connecting and finding new buyers for products are good examples of using the internet to the artisan's advantage.

The internet can be both beauty and beast. New users often fall at the mercy of more savvy applications for which they are not fully prepared. E-bay and Google shouldn't be crossed of the list quite yet though. With a little training and a few road signs pointing people in the right direction the internet can be a tool to increase sales, communicate more effectively and open the doors to new markets and information.

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