Any lingering questions about whether the Internet has become a viable sales channel are being put to rest by anecdotes from the 1998 holiday season.
Various reports indicate e-commerce revenues at least doubled-and overall use of the Internet for shopping nearly tripled during the 1998 holiday season, compared with the same period of 1997.
A survey by World Research and Earthlink, for example, indicates consumers expected to double their online spending and triple their use of the Internet as a shopping venue during the 1998 holiday season over the
year-ago period. About 2,150 Internet shoppers said they expected to
spend an average $339 online (about 38 percent of total purchases)
during the holidays.
America Online recently reported that its members spent $1.2 billion shopping on the Internet during the 1998 holiday season. To put this figure in perspective, Jupiter Research said a total of $1.1 billion was spent by all Internet users during the 1997 holiday season.
AOL also said 1.25 million of its members shopped online for the first time between Nov. 26 and Dec. 27, demonstrating that online shopping has become a key part of consumer spending patterns.
For the channel, this means significant opportunities for online retailers of computer products and those that offer set-up and integration services.
But at this stage of the game, establishing and maintaining an online storefront isn't enough to win initial or repeat business.
As more shoppers embrace e-commerce-whether they're buying computer products, books or flowers-their expectations will grow. Sites must be easy to navigate. Products should be immediately available for delivery. Customer service should be first-rate.
Increasingly, retailers who succeed in cyberspace will be those who best exploit and manipulate Web technology and those who provide top-notch services. Just look at the recent trends.
Online shopping sites are updating their back-end systems with better customer-response options and databases that allow retailers to track inventory and sales in real time. Key players, such as Egghead.com, are beginning to advertise on national television networks, leveraging their brand awareness with a mass audience.
At the same time, these retailers are finding competition from the vendor community. Most major manufacturers, from greeting-card designers to PC makers, have well-developed sites with some level of e-commerce available. So this year, it will be more important than ever for computer retailers to get their online houses in order and for those selling e-commerce services to hit the ground running.
Retailers can look to CRW for resources in developing and selling e-commerce solutions. In the first quarter, we'll co-host (with our sister site, ChannelWeb) an online chat about the topic. On Jan. 27 at 5 p.m., Egghead.com and Insight Direct will join us to discuss the e-commerce revolution. Retailers can access the chat at www.channelweb.com.
Then, on Feb. 15, Computer Retail Week and our online e-commerce site, Computer Retail Web, will offer a review of seven top e-commerce packages that retailers can use to set up their own sites. For ongoing e-commerce news, go to computerretailweb.com.