- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

Online sales in the first 10 days of the holiday season climbed to $1.48 billion a 27 percent increase from a year ago, according to BizRate.com Inc., which tracks transactions at 2,000 Web sites.
The rising number of sales shows that customers are growing more confident that electronic retailers have learned from their mistakes.
"Consumers are finding they are satisfied," said Ken Hunter, president and chief executive of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "We're going to continue to see more and more growth as people become more comfortable with [online shopping]."
Online shoppers placed 11.5 million orders over the Web between Nov. 19 and Nov. 28, with the average order costing about $129, according to BizRate.com.
During Thanksgiving week, the number of people visiting shopping sites at home and at work increased by 43 percent compared with the similar week in 2000, according to Jupiter Media Metrix Online Shopping Index, which tracks traffic on nearly 500 Web sites.
Despite its growing popularity, online shopping makes up a small portion of yearly retail sales, accounting for 1.3 percent of overall retail sales last year.
Overall sales of general merchandise like clothing, electronics and furniture topped $201 billion last year during the holiday shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation, which expects a 2.5 percent to 3 percent increase in 2001 holiday shopping.
Online holiday sales are expected to generate $11.9 billion an 11 percent increase from the $10.8 billion in sales over the 2000 holiday period, according to Jupiter Media Metrix.
That's a far cry from the $7 billion online retailers generated in 1999. That was Internet retailers' first big year in the business, but it also was plagued with mishaps and broken promises.
Take, for example, the classic case of Toysrus.com.
The overwhelmed online toy store sent out notices to customers Christmas week saying it was unable to fill their orders, leaving many gift givers empty-handed. The toy retailer has since partnered with online retailer Amazon.com to meet its inventory and shipping needs.
"These were business practices that were upsetting to consumers," Mr. Hunter said.
Many businesses online have cleaned up their act and have a better understanding of what shoppers want and need, especially during the holidays.
BBBOnline, the Internet arm of the Better Business Bureau system, has developed programs that have laid the foundation for business standards on the Internet. As of now, 11,424 Web sites carry the BBBOnline seal assuring consumers that the company is legitimate and follows proper business practices.
Security remains a top issue for reluctant shoppers who fear their credit-card numbers and personal information are being spread across cyberspace every time they make a purchase.
"Consumers are getting smarter about what [sites] need to have, and smart retailers have figured it out," said Ben Golub, vice president of VeriSign's Web Trust Services.
VeriSign, based in Mountain View, Calif., is an Internet security company that sells solutions to help make Web sites secure. It also processes credit-card payments. The company, which has offices in Herndon and Sterling, Va., has posted a 53 percent increase in the number of Web sites it secures from a year ago, bringing the total to more than 348,000 customers.
"There are more safe sites than ever before," Mr. Golub said. "And those sites are going to get the lion's share of business this holiday season."
Some sites are still failing to deliver, according to Consumers International, which conducted a survey of more than 400 goods and services bought over the Internet from sites all over the world.
In some cases, orders never were delivered, charges were made for products that never were shipped and, when merchandise was returned, the retailer didn't send a refund.
"Although there have been some improvements since 1999, business still has a long way to go in reliable fulfillment of orders and in improving the information given on the site," said Anna Fielder, director of the office for developed and transition economies of Consumers International, in a statement. "Although the Internet offers advantages to consumers in terms of convenience and choice, a world where many goods fail to arrive and traders don't send refunds does not inspire confidence in consumers to shop online."

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