The first early indicators for the holiday shopping season are in, and
things are looking good for online retailers.
Yahoo! Inc. said Monday that the volume of transactions processed through its shopping
section on Nov. 26 rose 400 percent from last year, and that orders were up more
than 110 percent from the previous month, although it did not give specific
America Online Inc. said online shopping spending nearly tripled compared with the $1.2 billion
spent during the 1998 Thanksgiving week, as more than 4 million AOL members made
And Amazon.com said that -- from Thursday midnight through Saturday -- its volume of orders was
two-and-a-half times greater than the same time last year.
According to the Nielsen/NetRatings E-Commerce Holiday Index, traffic
increased in excess of 18 percent from the day before Thanksgiving through Nov.
26. Traffic to toy sites jumped 83 percent over those days, according to the
index. Other hot categories included gifts, online malls and electronics.
The day after Thanksgiving, known as "Black Friday," traditionally marks the
kickoff for the holiday shopping season.
Other online retailers reported strong sales
At Bluefly, orders from Friday through Sunday jumped 700 percent from a year
ago, CEO Ken Sieff said.
"The weekend went extraordinarily well. The beauty of this business is you
can watch (shoppers) click through," he said.
AOL, the largest provider of consumer Internet services, said its strong
start to the holiday shopping season included nearly 600,000 AOL members who
shopped on the service for the first time.
More than 11 million, or 60 percent, of AOL's nearly 20 million members shop
online, the company reported.
AOL buyers focused their shopping on toys, apparel, flowers and sporting
goods as strong initial categories, it said.
Amazon spokesman Paul Chappelli said Amazon has been working hard to ensure
that it would be able to handle the holiday crush. Amazon's top sellers were
anything Pokemon -- including board games, gift boxes and a Pokemon version of
Monopoly. The other popular games were Millennium Princess Barbie and Rock and
GPS a big seller
Amazon's top sellers included GPS three plus personal navigator, Palm Pilots and
portable CD players. In books, the Harry Potter series was popular, as was "How
to Draw Pokemon."
"The majority of investments we have made for the holidays have been things
like beefing up our distribution network. We have doubled the customer service
staff and have introduced new features. This year there will be a lot of first
time shoppers and we need to sell their needs," he said.
Chappelli said that Amazon's promotions, which include e-mail gift
certificates for the toy store, aim to encourage customers to try out new
departments of the store. "Eighteen months ago we were just a bookstore. People
may not think of us right away for toys," he said.
Overall, analysts expect consumers to spend upwards of $8 billion online this
holiday season. Even
President Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon, using his weekly radio
address to announce that he would be shopping online this year.
And Web sites are doing everything they can to keep online shoppers happy.
Yahoo!, for instance, sponsored
free parking spaces for a few lucky shoppers in garages in New York, Chicago
and San Francisco. Other companies handed out gift certificates and bonuses such
as free shipping in attempts to lure consumers online.
And some clicks-and-mortar stores are using the
offline presence to boost online sales. Starting in September,
Barnesandnoble.com began putting coupons into shopping bags distributed at its
"Consumers that buy early from a merchant and realize what great deals are
there, are likely to go back (to that merchant) for the rest of their holiday
purchasing," said Jupiter Communications analyst Ken Cassar. "If you go to, for
example, (cooking supplier) Tavolo.com, and they offer you free shipping and
free gift wrap, you suddenly start thinking what kitchen products everyone on
your list might like."
Bluefly's Sieff said that free shipping is an easy way to add to customer
"Normally shipping is a flat-rate $3.95. So to go to free shipping was not
terribly expensive, and it makes a statement that we're not out to make money on
every corner. Customers seem to have responded pretty well," he said.
But too much traffic
can also be a problem. Toy sites in particular may have suffered over the
holiday weekend, with problems reported at KBKids.com and Toysrus.com.
| ||'Consumers that buy early from a merchant and realize what great deals
are there, are likely to go back (to that merchant) for the rest of their
-- Jupiter analyst Ken Cassar
And some of the hottest toys -- particularly some Pokemon treasures -- simply
aren't available online. The Pikachu plush toy was sold out at KBKids. And eToys
was sold out of all of the listed Pokemon trading cards.
Consumers may be understanding of the situation if hot toys sell out, Cassar
said. What's important for e-tailers is to make sure that they're upfront about
"Where people justifiably become upset is when products are shown on the site
as in stock and they're not," he said. "Getting that e-mail a couple of days
later explaining it's not in inventory doesn't cut