One Year Ago: Holiday E-Commerce Sales Open Strong


Originally published on November 29, 1999 and brought to you today as a time capsule.


The 1999 holiday season began with a bang over the Thanksgiving weekend,buoying hopesthat e-commerce sales will exceed even the loftiest of expectations.

Adding fuel to the enthusiasm, Internet power brokers Jeff Bezos ofAmazon.com and Steve Case of America Online both said Sunday that theholiday e-commerce explosion wasthe beginning of a long-term trend.

During an ABC television discussion, Bezos revealed that Amazon.com’s ordersare already more than 2.5 times greater than those taken during the sameperiod last year.

Additionally, Case put the current e-commerce shopping frenzy inperspective.

“We are only now scratching the surface in terms of the potential of thisnew medium,” said Case. “Over the next five years, Ithink it’s going to be incredible.”

However, despite predicting that e-commerce will continue to expand, Caseadded that brick-and-mortar stores are in no danger of becoming extinctanytime soon.

“If you look back over the last century and look at the innovations thatdrove us — through the telephone, the car, the television. they didn’t putanything out of business,” he said.

Clinton Joins The Fray

President Clinton took advantage of his Saturday radio address to declarehimself a bona fide e-shopping convert. “I intend to join them(cyber-shoppers),” Clinton said, “because online shopping has significantbenefits, not just for consumers and large established retailers. Onlinecommerce also opens a world of opportunity for local artisans and smallentrepreneurs.”

Clinton, while urging consumers to take “basic precautions,” also pointedout the importance of the Internet to the economic well-being of the UnitedStates. “One of the key reasons our economy continues to thrive with thelongest peacetime expansion in history is that we’re making the most of newtechnologies,” he said.

E-Gift Certificates

Meanwhile, a significant spike in electronic gift certificate sales isquietly leading the charge, with Webcertificate.com reporting todaythat sales have soared 700 percent so far this holiday season.

Additionally, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based startup said that itexpects to issue more than 10,000 gift certificates a day during the holidayshopping season.

“We strongly believe these kind of products will be the engine that drivese-commerce even further,” said Matt Gillin, CEO of C/Base,Webcertificate.com’s parent company.

Marketer’s Favorite

According to Webcertificate.com, as many as 50 percent of this year’sexpected 17 milliononline consumers could opt to buy e-gift certificates.

Competitor GiftCertificates.com, which sells branded gift certificates for retailers, restaurants,and hotels, also stands to gain from this holiday surge.

GiftCertificates.com recently hired actress Sophia Lorenas a spokesperson and touts a client base that includes Barnes & Noble, Bath& Body Works, Brooks Brothers, CHANEL, and The Sharper Image.

Another sign that online gift certificates are taking off is the rise insingle merchant e-gift certificates at major e-tailers such as Amazon.comand portals such as MSN.

MSN’s new e-Shop service now features the MSN Gift Certificate, and manyindustry observersexpect that other portals will soon follow with their own branded e-giftcertificates.

Problems Persist

Despite the encouraging news, the Thanksgiving weekend saw its share ofhiccups as well. Many consumers used the Internet to identifyitems for purchase at brick-and-mortar retailers, a phenomenon that hasplagued airlineWeb sites for years.

Also, overwhelming demand at toy sites broughtdifficulties for sites such as Toysrus.com and KBKids.com, both of whichsuffered sporadic inaccessibility throughout the weekend.

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