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Internet Rally for Last-Minute Holiday Shoppers 2000

By Damon Marturion
New Business News Staff Writer

SEATTLE - Survivors of the dot-com carnage were waiting for the Winter Wonderland flood of orders to hit - like they did last year - beginning December 1st. When the tremendous flood did not hit, it left many dot-coms wondering if they were next on the list of online retailers that would not make it to 2001.

Last year, online retailers were unprepared for the huge volume of online orders and left a disappointing trail of late deliveries, lack of inventory and perceived poor customer service.

Those that have held out to play this holiday season have made preparations to assure that this Holiday Season would be a shining success. Server upgrades, e-commerce solutions, restructuring web navigation, extra holiday staffs all to prove that their business is able to rise to the occasion.

Then the first of December hit, with moderate rise in sales. This moderate growth continued, leaving the determined survivors wondering: Was it because of the uncertainty of the presidency? Was it because, in general, online shoppers were wary due to last year's incapacity? Was it due to lack of consumer confidence? After all - this year has seen many "successful" dot-coms fail without notice.

Then, finally on December 15th, the dam broke. Whatever was holding back online shoppers was overcome and online retailers' upgrades were put to the test.

The Internet's largest retailer, Amazon.com, rose to the challenge and six days into the flood began to suffer from inability to fill orders due to lack of inventory and a system crash while stretching its ability to handle the increased traffic to its limits. This would be the ultimate test.

"Amazon.com would have the highest level of exposure because, number one, they are number one and have tried to be all things to all people," says Shelley Masters of moderately-sized iShop4U.com, "While we, and other online shopping malls, have a more specific market and/or clientele. In our, more realistic, business model, we have sheared up operations and are ready to handle the increase and deliver the goods. We represent many retailers who sell their products online and we have been very careful to maintain that this year we are doing everything we can to see that every order is filled promptly and with style."

"Our focus, in preparation for this years Holiday sales, has been to build strong relationships with niche retailers who equally have a high commitment to guarantee delivery this year." Masters continues, "Gift baskets were huge, this year, as we anticipated. Followed by clothing, jewelry, toiletries and fashion accessories."

Niche retailers surviving the dot-com shakeout who have strengthened their positions for this Holiday Season have the highest potential for success.

The flood of last minute online shopping has also contributed to a stress test issued to delivery systems. FedEx peaked-out on Monday, December 18th, while UPS reached its peak, the following day, December 19th. UPS has also sheared-up operations to meet the demand in contrast to last year.

Brick-and-mortar department store sales are down 12 percent from last year. Most stores are hoping that they will be able to pick up extra last-minute sales during the weekend, when it will be impossible for dot-coms to deliver product by Christmas, which falls on Monday - leaving one less delivery day than normal.

Niche video marketer, videoaddicts.com, has been achieving sales increases of 100 percent over last year. "Thanks to Amazon.com," says Dave Lewis of sales at the Video Addicts Hotline, "our sales have grown rapidly. When Amazon.com has not been able to fill the demands of our specific product, we are the next answer and it's been great."

The Video Addicts Hotline has focussed its efforts on bad, B-movies as its main emphasis. "The big boys have to focus on the A-titles and tend to ignore some of the lesser-known titles," Lewis continues, "that's where we fit in."

Hit hardest this year may be the greeting card industry. With the ease and convenience of free email greeting cards, according to American Greetings, sales of traditional holiday greeting cards are down 50 percent over last year.

The real winners this year, are the buyers. Increased customer service, inventory and computer resources for the dot-coms left standing will satisfy their clients, while the weekend rush at the brick-and-mortars are likely to keep the businesses afloat while the shoppers take advantages of alluring discounts.

. . . watch for more stories coming soon  

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