E-commerce is expected to increase by 1,000 percent in the next three years, and travel has just surpassed computers as the top commodity sold on the Web, nevertheless, many meeting attendees (and some meeting planners) are still uncomfortable with online registration.

Among the most frequently voiced concerns are: Is the Web safe? What and where are the risks? How can I convince my attendees that it is safe to register online for a meeting?

First, Why Use the Web at All? For the seller, the simple answer is efficiency. The cost of an online transaction is usually far lower than that of traditional registration. The buyer inputs his or her own name, address, credit card information, and other details. The online registration can then be imported into an organization's meeting registration system, saving labor costs involved with answering the phone; handling mail, faxes, and checks; re-entering data, and so on.

Michael Tayloe, program coordinator for Olsen Incentives, San Francisco, Calif., has been pleased with the new online registration system for an upcoming program for Financial Network Investment Corp. More than 70 percent of the group has chosen to register online. He reports significant savings in man-hours, less time spent on the phone with registrants, and the added efficiencies of being able to download the data directly into the system and receive forms that are complete. "With paper forms, you have to rely on the individual to fill out all the fields; on a Web form you simply make the required fields mandatory."

Are Credit Cards Secure on the Web? The answer is yes--as long as some basic precautions are in place. In most cases, the Web is more secure than face-to-face transactions, due to electronic security measures and tracking. For example, Travelocity, (www.travelocity.com), one of the top travel-booking Web sites, claims that it has never experienced a credit card theft through Web transmission in the hundreds of thousands of transactions it handles annually. Travelocity takes the additional step of describing in detail the many security measures it has in place (www2.travelocity.com/about/shopsafe.html).

Additional Security Measures Another step you can take to reassure the buyer is to use "digital signatures." Digital signatures are the electronic equivalent of a driver's license or passport that works in your browser to identify the company as being who they say they are. An external authority vouches for the company after going through a checking and verification process. You will see this type of security check become more commonplace. MPI's Web site (www.mpiweb.org), for example, uses Verisign (www.verisign.com) for digital authentication. Another popular Web authentication pro-vider is Entrust (www.entrust.com).

The Worst-Case Scenario So, what happens in the unlikely event that an attendee's card is stolen online? Credit card companies commonly impose a $50 maximum liability if a credit card number is used fraudulently--and that holds true for transactions on the Web, too. (For more info, visit the Federal Trade Commission site at www.ftc.gov.) A number of sites, such as Travelocity, offer to pay the $50 if this ever does happen.

Follow the above suggestions and you--and your attendees--will find the Web to be a safe, time-saving, and efficient tool to handle your meeting registration needs well into the future.