The Web is Still Open for Business!

A majority of the population it may not be, but there are quite a few people who have spent the past month watching every twist and turn in the bizarre U.S. presidential election as it swerved toward the finish line.

Finally, it’s over. And all of us who have watched a lifetime’s worth of CNN (and CNN.com) over the past 36 days are rubbing our eyes and realizing that Christmas is just 10 days away. And guess what? Not only have we not finished our holiday shopping yet, many of us have yet to start.

We will get the shopping done (hopefully). The question for e-commerce is where. The Web is a tempting option, but time is short.

We procrastinators are on the fence. All we need from e-tailers is one good reason to jump onto their side and we’ll be sold.

The first thing e-tailers should do is immediately remind as many people as possible that they’re still taking orders.

Deadlines, Deadlines

There are deadlines and then there are drop-dead deadlines. Yes, it would have been good if we had all done our buying before the 10th of December. That date had been bandied about as a good one to beat. “Order by then and rest easy” seemed to be the message. In fact, many an e-tailer, including Amazon.com, had special offers — free shipping and the like — that ended on that date.

Now we’re well past that deadline. Can we still get our gifts on time? And is it worth the risk to try?

The urgency of this question may be tempered by the fact that e-tail has done just fine, thank you, without us distracted non-shoppers so far. Single-day records for sales were set this week, with more than US$200 million in sales on back-to-back days, according to BizRate.com.

But what e-tailer wouldn’t love a strong finish?

You’ve Got Mail

I’m no fan of spam, and I would never wish an unwanted e-mail barrage on my fellow Web users. But there’s never been a better time to e-mail fence-sitting shoppers than right now.

I received two such e-mails on Wednesday. Each offered savings and each served as a not-so-subtle reminder that “time is running out.” And guess what? Each led to purchases.

On top of that, word should go out beyond the customer names and e-mail addresses already in the databases. A couple of well-placed TV or radio advertisements would get word out to the general public that indeed, it’s not too late to buy online and have your package under tree on Christmas morning.

No Promises, But

Now, some e-tailers may be reluctant to make promises. It’s getting down to crunch time, after all, and no one wants the public relations disasters of Christmas 1999 to be repeated this year.

There is some good news on that front, in the form of an Andersen Consulting study saying that buyers of gifts have a 92 percent chance of getting what they ordered and reasonably on time.

Those odds aren’t bad. But an 8 percent chance that I’ll be a pariah on Christmas Day when there’s no gift under the tree from me? That’s a hefty risk.

Make it Simple Already

What will win me over? Information. It took me six clicks to get to the “holiday ordering deadlines” section of Amazon. Now, I may have taken the scenic route, but that’s too much work. I could have had the car halfway warmed up by then. The same info is a single click away on Barnesandnoble.com.

That said, Amazon’s calendar is very informative, telling me exactly how late in the game it is for me. But move this information out onto the front page, or someplace very nearby, please. I can’t buy first and ask questions about shipping later. No, it’s too late for that.

By the time George W. Bush became President-elect, it was last-minute scramble time. I need the information up front and plainly stated.

Ask First, Shop Later

E-tailers like Buy.com and portals like Yahoo! have the right idea. Even though I hate pop-up windows, Buy.com uses one wisely: to lay out their shipping offers — including speed-sensitive upgrades just right for us last-minute types. My question is answered before I even begin shopping.

And Yahoo! has set aside an entire “last minute shopping” section populated by merchants who say they can get your gifts out by Christmas.

No Secrets, Please

So there’s still time. Based on the offerings on the Web, we probably have until next Wednesday to get our shopping done online and still have reasonable confidence that the UPS or the Postal Service person will be knocking before the holiday.

E-tailers, it seems, are primed and ready for the procrastinators among us. They’ve got the offers in place, the shippers on alert, the products poised and ready to go.

Now they just have to make sure we all know it before time really does run out.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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