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E-shopping sites boom before Christmas
Tuesday, November 27 2001
by Matthew Clark

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While the US economy officially entered into recession, on-line retailers have reported surprisingly high pre-Christmas sales in the past week.

Without disclosing specific sales figures, Amazon.com said it sold around 12,000 more items per hour than it did at the same time a year ago. Amazon also said that almost twice as many users have set up wish lists on its site than last year. Meanwhile, Kmart's on-line venture, BlueLight.com, said that its sales were up 45 percent from the Thanksgiving weekend in the US last year.

In fact, according to new figures from Nielsen//NetRatings, 22 percent more Internet users shopped the day after Thanksgiving compared with the normal Monday through Thursday average. Nielsen said that Amazon had 1.7 million daily unique visitors the day after Thanksgiving, often called "black Friday," up from 1.3 million visitors on the Friday a week earlier. The tracking firm also said that Wal-Mart's Web site more than doubled its visitors to 355,000 on the day after Thanksgiving.

Further evidence of what may be a mini-boom to on-line sales for the holiday season came from Victoria's Secret, the women's lingerie and clothes retailer which puts on a fashion show at this time each year. During the week ending on 18 November its Web site reached 423,000 unique visitors, compared with 212,000 visitors the previous week, according to Nielsen.

All of these seemingly positive signs came as the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Harris Interactive released the results of a survey which claimed that roughly 37 percent of on-line consumers are expressing confidence that the holiday shopping season will be a strong one and plan to spend more as a result.

That survey said that the number of confident e-shoppers is more than double the number of on-line buyers who claim to be worried by the current economic outlook. Additionally, those who are reported to be concerned, had experienced a layoff or seen family members lose their job.

Nevertheless, 48 percent of US consumers fall somewhere in the middle between concerned and optimistic about the e-economy. But the survey estimated that over 109 million people are expected to purchase goods or services via the Web this year in the US alone and more than 56 percent of those surveyed plan to spend the same as or more than they did last year.

A variety of theories has emerged regarding why the slight boom in e-commece transactions is occurring in the midst of an ever bleaker economy. Some analysts simply suggest that the Internet, as a medium for purchasing goods, still has room to grow and is doing so. Others say that with air travel and travel in general down, many consumers are looking for ways to deliver gifts that in previous years would have been hand-delivered. Still, other industry watchers say that many shoppers are resisting heading out to the malls and shopping centres due to the gloom that is persisting following the 11 September attacks.

But the research firms have already predicted big numbers for the holiday season with Gartner claiming that e-shopping sales will hit USD11.86 billion in North America this holiday season and more than USD25 billion worldwide. Last year, e-commerce holiday sales hit USD9.1 billion, according to Gartner.

With some irony, the US National Bureau of Economic Research announced Monday that the US officially entered a recession in March 2001. However that news seemed to do little to dampen the spirits of investors in e-commerce firms on Wall Street.

On Monday, the Nasdaq composite index rose 38.03 to 1,941.23. Amazon.com shares gained USD3.13, or 34 percent, to USD12.21 on Monday while Yahoo gained USD2.34, or 15 percent, to USD18.07.

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