- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

On-line shoppers should expect a better experience this holiday season as Internet retailers say they have ironed out inventory and delivery kinks to avoid the same problems that plagued the industry last year.

"This year we expect far fewer delivery issues than last year," said Michele Rosenshein, an analyst at Jupiter Research, an Internet research firm.

The 1999 holiday season caused a lot of frustration when on-line retailers had trouble filling orders, updating their sites to show availability of products and stating the correct time an order would arrive.

Nearly 40 percent of shoppers had product-delivery problems during their on-line holiday experience, according to a survey by Jupiter Media Metrix 2000.

This year, about 56 percent of on-line retailers say they were completely ready for the onslaught of holiday orders, compared with the 10 percent that were confident last year, Ms. Rosenshein said.

The strict enforcement of the Telephone and Mail Order Rule a federal law that forces an Internet site to deliver merchandise when it promises it will also encouraged on-line retailers to get their act together. The Federal Trade Commission last year fined several retailers that violated the rule, including Toysrus.com, which left many on-line shoppers empty-handed at Christmas.

Companies have been "ever more diligent and have gone above and beyond … to avoid problems," said Steve Holmes, a spokesman for the United Parcel Service.

For instance, Amazon.com, which did not have any major inventory or delivery problems last season, began working with UPS in January to prepare for the holiday rush. And Toysrus.com teamed up with Amazon, the largest electronic retailer, to eliminate the problems it had in 1999.

Some sites have been careful this year by cutting off order deadlines after Dec. 15, while others are "taking pride in their ability to fill late orders," Ms. Rosenshein said, adding that tomorrow and Thursday will be the last days for ordering on most sites if consumers want merchandise by Christmas.

Shipping gifts by using standard delivery options, which usually takes five to seven days, is out of the question. Last-minute shoppers should expect to do what they did last year and shell out extra money for special shipping charges.

Amazon.com added a special shipping category to its delivery options this year. "Expedited Holiday Shipping," at an extra cost of $3.99 per shipment, takes two to four business days and is available with the purchase of specially marked items on the site. The shipment charge ranges from $5.98 to $9.98.

Amazon also offers two-day and next-day air delivery, which are the fastest ways to receive the items but, depending on the items ordered, could be cheaper than the "Expedited Holiday Shipping." Shipping prices range from $4.99 to $14.99 per shipment.

But improved inventory operations and extra delivery options mean extra work for the delivery services.

Today will be UPS' busiest day overall. The company will deliver an estimated 19 million packages worldwide 5.5 million packages more than what UPS usually delivers daily.

Thursday will be UPS's busiest day in the Washington area, with an expected 385,000 packages being delivered.

Despite the heavy volume, UPS officials say the first two weeks of the holiday season showed no growth in the number of packages being delivered compared with last year.

"It was less than what we expected," Mr. Holmes said.

The Atlanta-based company said the slight slowdown in volume was a result of a "softening economy" and the comparison of such strong results the prior year, when the economy was booming.

On the other hand, the U.S. Postal Service expects a 3 percent increase over last year's cards, letters and packages sent between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to spokeswoman Rita Peer.

Last year, the Postal Service delivered 17.9 billion items during the holiday season and expects 20 billion items this year.

Yesterday was considered the Postal Service's busiest day of the season with an expected 280 million pieces of mail being processed.

Ms. Peer said the increase is partly because of the increase in Internet companies using the post office.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide