Online vendors have doubled their Internet sales this holiday season over last, and that is just the beginning of the new age of retail via the Internet, observers said. Internet sales are predicted to overtake direct-mail purchasing by Christmas, 2000, and even threaten traditional merchant storefronts, they added.
"With each new Christmas season, a whole new group of people is brought into the comfort zone of online buying," said Harold Wolhandler, director of research at ActiveMedia, a consultancy in Peterborough, New Hampshire. "Over the next two or three years it will become a very mainstream market."
According to the FutureScapes report from ActiveMedia, more than 80 percent of respondents expect to shop online rather than via mail order in the near future, and more expect to do so by 2000. Sixty percent also said they are willing to purchase from any suitable vendor regardless of location, including traditional storefronts.
Other analysts agree the market is primed for tremendous growth.
"Our prediction for the Christmas season, 1997, is US$1.1 billion," said Heather Dougherty, research associate of commerce at Jupiter Communications, in New York. Dougherty based her prediction on numbers extrapolated from the rest of 1997. Retailers generally post approximately 40 percent of their sales during the holiday season.
No one is releasing exact numbers, but online vendors are boasting significant year-over-year holiday sales increases.
America Online's holiday sites transactions doubled compared to 1996. Both AOL and Amazon.com customers are more mainstream than a year ago, when the biggest items were computer-related.
"We have a very much broader audience," said David Risher, senior vice president of product development at Amazon.com.
Traditional computer vendors have also joined the fray. E-Christmas, a collaborative experiment in online sales in Europe conducted by Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, United Parcel Service, Visa, and MasterCard, also posted heavy sales for the Christmas season, said Jonathan Weinstein, lead product manager for Site Server Commerce marketing at Microsoft.
"We have 112 [European merchants] participating, and at this time we've had 150,000 unique visitors from all over the world," Weinstein said. "Over 10,000 people have registered."
Smaller online vendors are also enjoying the Internet-commerce holiday glow.
"It's been a great year for Christmas," said Keith Clougherty, president and CEO of Roxy.com, an Internet seller of digital satellites and home theater systems. "Business from last Christmas is up about 1,000 percent this year and up 40 percent from November. We're looking at $650,000 in December."
America Online, in Dulles, Virginia, is at http://www.aol.com. Amazon.com, in Seattle, is at http://www.amazon.com. Roxy.com, in Boston, is at http://www.roxy.com. Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Washinton, is at http://www.microsoft.com.