Study: E-Shoppers Undaunted by Holiday Snafus

Despite lingering concerns about fulfillment and privacy, nearly 100 percent of consumers who shopped online during the 1999 holiday season said they are willing to give e-commerce another chance this year, according to a study released Tuesday by AT&T.

The study, which polled 150 e-tailers and 600 consumers, found that 97 percent of last year’s holiday e-shoppers expected to return to online stores this time around. Furthermore, fully half of those individuals who said they did not shop online last year said they planned to do at least some of their holiday shopping on the Web this year.

If the survey is accurate, sites must be prepared for heavier holiday traffic in 2000 than in 1999, when several overwhelmed e-tailers failed to provide timely product delivery.

Repeat, New Business Expected

“The 2000 holiday season will be a make-or-break season for many online retailers,” said Kathleen Earley, president of AT&T Data and Internet Services. “Last year proved to be a training ground for companies. This year, even more consumers will be online, and their expectations are high, so businesses have to gear up. If they don’t, they’ll be shut out.”

The AT&T study’s findings dovetail with a Jupiter Research report earlier this month suggesting that while the rate of online sales growth this year will slow compared with previous holiday seasons, business will still have to deal with 66 percent higher volume than in 1999.

Another study in September, by Gartner Group, predicted that worldwide online holiday sales will reach $19.5 billion this year, an 85 percent increase over last year’s holiday season revenue of $10.5 billion.

Businesses Hard on Themselves

While all concerned have high hopes for the 2000 holidays, companies are quick to acknowledge their failings of last year. Only about 40 percent of e-businesses gave themselves “very successful” ratings for 1999’s performance, while a quarter judged last year’s holidays as “not at all successful.”

The consumers polled, meanwhile, have their own concerns about using e-commerce to do their holiday shopping this year. Among other things, about three-fourths of the respondents said that they were concerned about the security of their financial information to the point where it might affect their decision to shop online.

Beyond that, shoppers said they want Web sites with easy-to-navigate, friendly designs that do not take too long to download, and e-tailers to ensure that inventory is both in stock and can be delivered on time.

In August, a poll by Gartner Group-owned cPulse showed that 24 percent of online shoppers were extremely dissatisfied with their online encounters and are concerned about online security, shipping costs and timely delivery.

Holiday Spirit

Yet while consumers still seem more than happy to do at least some of their shopping online, the study also suggested that no matter how much convenience e-commerce sites provide, brick-and-mortar businesses have one advantage that e-tail sites will never be able to match: holiday spirit.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they enjoyed shopping in a “real” store because it put them in the holiday spirit, and another 42 percent said they liked the holiday sales at brick-and-mortar establishments.

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