Sunday, November 21, 1999

Online shopping clicks with buyers

Convenience, value propel an unexpected holiday boom

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Janice Bechtel shows off some of her online purchases.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Heads up, Rudolph — Santa's gone surfing. Online spending is expected to explode this holiday as consumers seek more relaxing ways to have their yuletide delivered.

        Americans are expected to spend $4 billion online from Thanksgiving to Christmas this year, market research firm Forrester Research Inc. projects. That compares with $1.5 billion the same time last year. For all of 1999, online spending is expected to exceed $20 billion, vs. $8 billion in 1998.

        A variety of cultural factors are driving the interest in online shopping. Among the most obvious is convenience. Time-strapped consumers can e-shop at all hours, in their underwear if they please, and while the kids are asleep. Also, the public is developing a growing understanding of the Internet, as more homes and offices incorporate and embrace the technology.

  The top 25 online retail sites, in terms of estimated sales for period August 1998 to July 1999: *
  1. $1.3 bil
  2. $1.1 bil
  3. $600 mil
  4. $400 mil
  5. $350 mil
  6. $300 mil
  7. $200 mil
  8. $175 mil
  9. $175 mil
  10. $150 mil
  11. $150 mil
  12. $150 mil
  13. $150 mil
  14. $125 mil
  15. $125 mil
  16. $110 mil
  17. Columbia $110 mil
  18. $110 mil
  19. $100 mil
  20. $100 mil
  21. $95 mil
  22. $90 mil
  23. $90 mil
  24. $90 mil
  25. $90 mil
  The 10 top performing online retail companies that also have brick-and-mortar outlets, in terms of estimated online sales for period August 1998 to July 1999. *
  1. $175 mil
  2. $100 mil
  3. $100 mil
  4. $90 mil
  5. $80 mil
  6. $55 mil
  7. $40 mil
  8. $30 mil
  9. $25 mil
  10. $20 mil
  * Does not indicate actual company sales. Store magazine estimates sales based on Internet volume only. In case of auction sites, revenue figures include only new merchandise sold.
  Source: September 1999 Stores magazine, a publication of the National Retail Federation
        “It's easier to go online and go to one place than to go to 60 different stores,” said Montgomery shopper Janice Bechtel, 56, a five-year online shopping veteran. “It's overcrowded (in the malls). There's so much merchandise crammed together. I probably haven't been in the mall in a month or more.”

        Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said a “media frenzy” following the 1998 holiday season piqued a lot of consumer interest. Now, he said, shoppers are becoming online savvy.

        “People have access to computers at home, with computer prices coming down, and people are more comfortable with the technology,” he said.

        Among those getting more comfortable are women, said Jack Staff, head of Internet and e-commerce research at Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif. “We think this is going to be the year of the woman,” he said.

        Last year, the man/woman e-commerce breakdown came in at 55/45, with men in favor, Mr. Staff said. But with women's lifestyles becoming more demanding, they are expected to turn to the mouse this year.

        Through conversations with several area online shoppers, the reasons for the Internet's popularity are illuminated. Most consumers agree that they appreciate the convenience, but they also are attracted by the variety, novelty and value of e-commerce.

        Local online users also learned some tricks to make e-shopping even easier. Mrs. Bechtel, for instance, suggests using one credit card for all online activity; it makes it easy to keep track of spending, she said.

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