Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc. may grab the headlines, but photonics companies are also busy cashing in on e-commerce from their own Web sites. Internet-savvy firms are coming online with product catalogs and interactive customer services to boost sales in a medium that, according to Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., could account for up to $3.2 trillion in sales in 2003. E-commerce is catching on so quickly that managers say one of their biggest problems is getting new features designed into the Web site fast enough. For example, Newport Corp. in Irvine, Calif., polled visitors to its site and found that 80 percent would make a purchase online. But only half said they actually could, citing barriers such as purchase order routines and credit card controls. In response, Newport redesigned its site to make buying easier. Rapid growth Web sales at Newport in April were 10 times above the mark for April 1998. "If sales go 10 times over where we are now," said Lee Blake, the company's director of global marketing, "we're going to have to do a lot to support it." Less-complicated products lend themselves to sale over the net, advised Roger Rypma, marketing communications manager at Coherent Inc. in Auburn, Calif. "We're betting that [Web sales] are going to be significant," he said. When customers know what they want to buy, e-commerce can be a quick and easy solution. It's also a boon for communication, allowing a firm to personalize customer relationships. A company can share information with specific customers or post drawings and technical files on restricted-access sites or through file transfer protocol sites. As customers update their purchasing information and use the targeted sales information, companies can use that data to schedule production. The standard supply chain business model doesn't seem to hold for photonics companies when it comes to sharing information with suppliers. Unlike the Wal-Marts and product distributors who share retail sales figures with suppliers as a means of inventory control, a photonics company is likely to make the device that needs to be restocked, and often the raw material supplier doesn't have online sales. Web-based commerce even seems to complement the efforts of the human sales force. "We're using the salespeople to run after different opportunities, to sell products that take six months to specify and get right," said Blake.