Electronic Commerce Strategies Harvard Summer School– Summer 2015 Syllabus

Electronic Commerce Strategies MGMT S-5010 (Course #32577) Harvard Summer School– Summer 2015 Syllabus

Course Background

When I created a predecessor of this course back in 1995 (as perhaps the second or third one available world-wide), there was tremendous “magic” in the air. People dreamt about millions of dollars that could be cashed in on wild ideas. And some indeed earned those millions. Some earned millions on selling a shaky idea only to see the buyer turn around and make tens of millions on the same idea. And sometimes the buyers were left with nothing. There sure was plenty of excitement; the course had standing-room only crowds, waiting lists, and disappointed students who could not get in due to a lack of chairs.

The landscape in e-commerce has changed since then. In 2000, we saw the “dot com bubble” burst with dramatic loss of wealth in nearly the entire technology sector. It took until this Spring for NASDAQ to recover from its high of 5,132 in March of 2000, 15 years ago. We also have seen mobile technology like tablets and smartphones overtaking laptops in sales and “eye-share.” Social networking and cloud computing have become mainstream rather than fringe, creative ideas, pushing word processing and email to the back seat. Venture capital has also increased, not only matching but also surpassing previous levels. It would be an understatement to say that E-Commerce has been re-invigorated once again; it would be fair to say that it is even more central and exciting than ever before.

Another change was the focus of the commerce activity itself. Back in 1996, the course focused on existing firms that experimented with websites. Then Amazon, Yahoo, and EBay grew successfully, showing us the power of a new concept: a “pure play” firm that had no physical store or presence of any kind. Those firms then forced brick and mortar businesses to add a web presence to their capital and operating expenses, to invent another new concept: a “brick and click” business. Following that initiative, social components were integrated into many websites, moving towards “Web 2.0.” Shortly after that, mobile phones and tablets suddenly became central. Now some visionary firms have integrated social networks and mobile computing into business as usual. A striking fact is that each of these changes took only a few years to become mainstream.
The Focus of the Course

Over the same period, there has been dramatic maturing of the content of E-Commerce courses as well. Back in 1995, those three or four of us designing the first E-Commerce courses spent several weeks teaching students about HTML, JavaScript, and other low-level tools for building web-pages. Just 20 years later and counting, the list of technologies is longer than ever and changing constantly, but powerful packages are now available that avoid the need for developers to see the HTML language very often (if at all). One popular and powerful example is Adobe’s Dreamweaver. There is also a trend towards using sites such as WordPress, which employ simplified but still-powerful templates and features. Even Word (since XP) allows you to develop web pages and save them as HTML documents. There are fewer barriers than ever before to publish any of your materials to the world.

The trouble is that many tools require expert knowledge of how to change server operating system settings (especially to open security gates to only the right parties), create forms, and to link to databases. The technology has developed so much that an entire series of courses can, and must, be taken to build a sophisticated and unusual on-line business. Meanwhile, the philosophy in this course is that it is more important to have the creative idea, the gem, the golden moment that can support the investment of a lifetime’s worth of income, rather than to focus on the mechanics. In other words, a great site will wither and die if it has no strategic business value. The issues of competitive advantage and sustainability of that advantage are more important than the mechanics.

It is no accident that the word “strategies” is in the course title. We will focus on competitive advantage and sustainability in this course rather than the operational mechanics. While we will discuss some of the technologies that can be used in e-commerce, our focus will be technology agnostic.

The development of new businesses has admittedly slowed. Most of the effort is now aimed at helping an existing business looking at new ways to leverage e-commerce, rather than starting new enterprises. Of course, some new e-commerce businesses are created, but new businesses are also created in the physical brick and mortar world, even in mature enterprises like stores, restaurants, and service firms.

All in all, there is both good and bad news. The good news is that much good, interesting, and intellectual content is now available for studying e-commerce. There are interesting strategic models and a plethora of cases involving those in your day-to-day experience like music downloading and those that you probably will never use, such as Baxter’s Business-to-Business system.

The bad news is that the area is still developing so some of your knowledge will seem time-sensitive. You will find that new developments will seem to make some of this material obsolete. Fortunately, the approach we take here will focus on frameworks that will not change as rapidly as the technology. If you become accustomed to applying the strategic frameworks to these real situations, you will see how new technologies do not change everything all at once. There are still timeless issues of competitive forces, competitive advantage, value chain, and sustainability that will organize the material, and hopefully will organize your thoughts about the new technologies for many years to come.

Study Materials

Text: Laudon, Kenneth C. and Carol Guercio Traver, E-Commerce: Business, Technology, Society 2014 (11th ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education (Prentice-Hall), ISBN-10: 0133507165; ISBN-13: 978-0133507164

Cases: See fuller description below, but they are available for purchase at https://cb.hbsp.harvard.edu/cbmp/access/37039309Links to an external site.

Note: If you need only The NY Times Paywall case, here is the link: https://cb.hbsp.harvard.edu/cbmp/access/37795559Links to an external site.

Other: In addition, the following readings are required, with numbers mapping to the tentative course schedule:

  1. Galletta, Dennis “Thinking Strategically about E-Commerce to Achieve Competitive Advantage,” Keynote presentation for the 17th Conference on EDI and E-Commerce, Rachna, Poland, June 2009. Available at http://www.pitt.edu/~galletta/research/GallettaKeynote.pdf (Links to an external site.)
  2. Cummings, Joanne, “How SOA could change the way you buy electricity,” Network World, October 22, 2007. Available at http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/197196/how_soa_could_change_way_buy_electricity/ (Links to an external site.)
  3. Kay, Russell, “Quickstudy: Cloud Computing,” Computerworld, August 4, 2008. Available at http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/255703/quickstudy_cloud_computing/ (Links to an external site.)
  4. Elberse, Anita, “Should you Invest in the Long Tail?” Harvard Business Review, July-Aug 2008. (See Canvas site for retrieval information)
  5. Bonabue, Eric, “Decisions 2.0: The Power of Collective Intelligence,” Sloan Management Review, 50, no. 2, pp. 45-52. (See Canvas site for retrieval information)
  6. Loiacono, Eleanor, “Web Accessibility and Corporate America,” Communications of the ACM, 47, no. 12, pp. 83-87. (See Canvas site for retrieval information)

Cases [Individual and Group]

  • Pinterest: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, 2015, (Chap 1, pp. 3-6 in the text)
  • Lands’ End, 2003 (available at the following link: (please inform me if it disappears) http://www.business.unr.edu/faculty/kuechler/750/landsEnd.pdf (Links to an external site.).
  • iPremier Co. (A) Denial of Service Attack: Graphic Novel version (Austin, Leibrock, & Murray) 6/25/09: #9609092 (Buy from the Harvard link above)
  • Orbitz Charts its Mobile Trajectory, 2015, (Chap 4, pp. 240-243 in the text)
  • Facebook vs Twitter: Does Social Marketing Work? 2015, (Chaps 2 and 7; pp. 55-58 and 417-419 in the text)
  • com: Exploiting the Value of Digital Business Infrastructure (Applegate & Collura), 9/5/2000: #9-800-330 (Buy from the Harvard link above)
  • The New York Times Paywall, (Kumar, Anand, Gupta, Gee) 1/31/2013: #9-512-077 (Buy from the Harvard link above)
  • eBay Evolves, 2015, (Chap 11, pp. 736-738 in the text)
  • Uber Revs Up, 2015, (Chap 9, pp. 615-617 in the text)
  • Threadless: The Business of Community (Lakhani & Kanji), 6/30/08: #608707 (Buy from the Harvard link above)—it is available on CDROM or Web link – if you choose CDROM it must be mailed physically.

Final Course Outline

Part 1: Introduction
1June 23



Group Formation

Strategic Models

Chap 1

Galletta (2009)1

2June 25e-Commerce Business Models and Concepts

e-Commerce Infrastructure

Creative Applications

Group adjustments/reformation

Chaps 2, 3

Cummings2 and

Kay3 articles

Part 2: Technology Infrastructure for E-Business
3June 30Pinterest case analysis due (individual) (pp. 3-6) – see the last section of this syllabus for all case questions!

E-Commerce Infrastructure

Ethical Issues

Chap 3 (continued), Chap 8 (sec 1 only)
3July 2Lands End case analysis due (group)

E-Commerce Security

Chap 5


4July 7iPremier case analysis due (individual)

E-Commerce Security

Quiz 1

Chap 5 (continued)
Part 3: Business Concepts and Social Issues
5July 9Orbitz case analysis due (group) (text Chap 4 p. 240)

Building an E-Commerce Presence

Chap 5 (conclusion)

Chap 4 pt. 1

6July 14Facebook vs Twitter case analysis due (brief class discussion only; nothing written) (text Chaps 2 pg 55; Chap 7 pg. 417)

E-Commerce Marketing and Advertising Concepts

Failures analysis due (group)

Chap 4 pt. 2

Chap 6 pg. 1

7July 16Amazon case analysis due (individual)

E-Commerce Marketing and Advertising Concepts

Chap 6 pt. 2


Part 4: E-Commerce in Action
8July 21New York Times case analysis due (group)

Guest Speaker: Eleanor Loiacono

Social, Mobile, and Local Marketing

The Long Tail

Quiz 2


Chap 7


9July 23Uber case analysis (individual) (text Chap 9 pg. 615)

Ethical, Social, Political Issues

Online Retailing and Services

Chaps 8, 9 pt. 1
10July 28Threadless case analysis due (group)


Online Retailing and Services

Online Content and media

Chap 9 pt. 2, Chap 10


11July 30eBay case analysis due (individual) (text Chap 11 pg 736)

Social Networks, Auctions, and Portals

B2B, Supply Chain, Collaborative Commerce

Chaps 11, 12


FinalAug 4


Online Entrepreneurship Project Presentations (group)

Quiz 3





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