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Amazon takes the festive prize

The big surprise of the hottest selling season was the success of traditional retailers in the electronic marketplace

Amazon.com was the big winner of the festive season, according to new data from Media Metrix.

But the big surprise, according to the traffic data released by the Web measurement firm, was how well the sites of traditional retailers fared compared to their "dotcom" competitors.

The offline brand names seem to have bested the millions of dollars in advertising spent by the dotcoms, at least in some cases.

Based on unique visitors, the top five e-commerce sites between November 14 and December 26 were Amazon.com, eBay.com, eToys.com, Barnesandnoble.com and Toysrus.com.

Offline retailers' sites KBkids.com, TicketMaster.com, JCPenney.com and ColumbiaHouse.com also made it into the top 25, as did sites of computer makers Dell and Compaq.

Media Metrix termed brick-and-mortar sites "one of the biggest success stories" of the festive period.

"The thing you're seeing on the list is that people who built a brand before Thanksgiving are showing up. For the most part these are companies who existed and marketed before Thanksgiving. People are typing in the sites they know," said David Cooperstein, director consumer e-commerce at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

"2000 will be the revenge of bricks-and-mortar. They've learned a lot from dotcoms and their own efforts. This is their year to take back the reins of growth on e-commerce."

But other early signs indicate that holiday shoppers are increasingly turning to the Web.

America Online said Monday that its members spent $2.5bn (£2bn) online between Thanksgiving and Christmas, more than double what they spent last year.

AOL said surveys of its 20 million-person user base indicate that two-thirds are shopping online. And 2.5 million of those shoppers made their first purchase online this year.

AOL isn't the only site reporting good numbers. Lycos said Monday that the number of unique shoppers at its site rose by 450 percent compared with a year ago. Last week, Go.com said sales at its online stores were three times higher than a year ago, and that traffic to the shopping section of its portal doubled. And Yahoo! said last week that orders through its shopping section were up 385 percent over the holiday period.

Results of a survey of top e-commerce sites conducted by industry group Shop.org showed that total spending for the holiday season could hit $10bn.

The average AOL shopper spent $300 online this year, up 50 percent from a year ago. And 95 percent said they would buy online again and rated their experience as excellent or good.

That rating figure could be key. While shoppers were taking to the Net in droves this holiday season, the extra load seemed to have been too much for some sites. Fulfillment issues cropped up at a few popular sites, resulting in orders showing up after Christmas or, in some cases, never showing up.

Toysrus.com was forced to send gift certificates to customers after discovering that around 5 percent of its online orders wouldn't get delivered on time.

An Andersen Consulting survey found that about a quarter of online shopping transactions have some mix-up.

Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget said in a note to investors today that while he remains confident in e-commerce stocks, there could be pullback in the business-to-consumer sector.

Blodget said he would focus on companies that lead their category, have strong revenue growth, are gaining market share and have international operations.

But Blodget said that "competition, lack of profitability and decreasing returns on new online users in the US market will lead to a shakeout and consolidation" in the business.

Take me to the e-commerce special.

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