Online retailers plan new projects for coming year

Though the US economy may be slowing, online retailers are nonetheless happy about seeing record-breaking online sales during the Christmas holidays and are proceeding with new projects.

          Though the economy may be slowing, online retailers - especially the "bricks-and-clicks" retailers with web, print catalogue and store outlets - are nonetheless happy about seeing record-breaking online sales during the Christmas holidays and are proceeding with new projects, such as "personalising" web marketing to customers.

          At the jam-packed National Retail Federation (NRF) conference in New York last week, Goldman Sachs and Forrester Research disclosed estimates that gift-buying online doubled since 1999 to $US10 billion. While still tiny compared with the overall $US195 billion the US Department of Commerce claims was spent on holiday purchases, retailers say the good news is web-based sales given them fuel to put new projects on the front burner.

          "Holiday sales [online] were three times that of '99 for us," says Chuck Cebuhar, vice president and chief merchant at Sears Online, adding that the number of visitors to doubled to 4.9 million during the holidays. More importantly, says Cebuhar, who spoke at the NRF show, is that web- and store-based retailing is becoming inextricably intertwined.

          "We have 3000 stores backing us up for returns," Cebuhar says. "And new research has shown us that 12% of business in our stores is due to the result of research customers did online."

          Circuit City last year began giving web shoppers a real-time view of store inventory so they could purchase online and have the item reserved for pick-up at a store, says George Barr, Circuit City's director of internet merchandising. "Fifty percent of our web customers have chosen to pick up our products in our stores."

          For some executives, the interdependence between store and web means separate data systems for web, catalogue and stores - a bad idea that many will change this year.

          Sears uses BroadVision e-commerce software but maintains separate delivery and inventory systems for each of its "channels." Sears is reconsidering this approach, and plans to better integrate web, store and print catalogue data systems this year.

          Chiasso, which sells upscale household goods in its stores, catalogue and on the web, has a similar problem. "Right now we have three different customer databases for web, store and catalogue, and it's a very cumbersome process to pull it together," Chiasso president David Marshall said during his talk at NRF. "If I could go back, I'd change that."

          Though last Christmas was the fifth year online for many retailers, some, including, got their first experience trying "personalisation" technology to sell online.

          "For the first time we had a way to offer impulse items at check-out online," says Catherine David, general manager at "We could suggest some things, such as the right batteries for toys."

, whose website is based on Art Technology Group's Dynamo software, plans to further explore online personalisation of sales to customers through ATG's Scenario Server and proprietary content-management tools Target created.

          For, the Kmart spinoff, 2000 was a roller coaster ride, according to BlueLight CEO Mark Goldstein. He says Kmart will unveil a new ISP service next month that will have a free option, but will charge for more sophisticated services and support.

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