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NEW YORK - Online retailing is expected to fare only about as well or as poorly as the retail economy as a whole during the Christmas season, The New York Times reported today. That stands in contrast to a steady growth since 1998, when online sales kept surging despite less favorable economic trends or even normal seasonal patterns.
Those consumers who use the Internet will likely be looking for special deals. A survey conducted in July by marketing consultant Odyssey Research found that 51 percent of the respondents said they were more intent on bargain-hunting than in the past, according to the Times. In addition, they plan to use the Internet to buy discretionary items, like books, computers and clothing, rather than staples like food and drugs.
Amazon.com, the largest online store, predicts its fourth-quarter sales will be up by no more than 10 percent compared with last year's period. Jupiter Media Metrix, an Internet research firm, has backed off its earlier forecast of a 20 percent increase in holiday online spending, now predicting only an 11 percent gain compared with the 2000 holiday season.
Executives from online stores told the Times they have not seen any drop in orders in the wake of the anthrax news.
"If anything, people are going to be looking for a return address on a package they know and trust," said Jean Jackson, chief executive of Walmart.com. "We think they will be comfortable when they see Wal-Mart."
Jackson noted that if people travel less over the holidays than in years past, they might use online shopping as a convenient way to have gifts wrapped and shipped to out-of-town friends and relatives. Even those who do travel may still turn to the Internet, she predicted.