Online Sales Are Lone Bright Spot for Holidays

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Though the Internet did not salvage a sluggish holiday season, it apparently held its own or was an area of growth for most businesses.


The Spiegel Group, for example, reported a 20 percent spike in online sales for the five weeks ended Dec. 29. It was a lone positive note in a statement in which Spiegel, Downers Grove, IL, again lowered its fourth-quarter earnings outlook and reported that sales for those five weeks fell to $447.8 million from $537.1 million a year earlier.


J.C. Penney Co. reported that e-commerce sales were $62 million for December and $302 million year-to-date, compared to $65 million and $271 million last year respectively.


One privately held upscale men's apparel merchant is claiming double-digit sales growth -- 25 percent of which reportedly came from its Internet initiatives -- during the second half of 2001.


"We've seen a movement back toward shirts and ties, which are the foundation of our business," said , Fleetwood, PA.


The Internet also may have played a significant role in salvaging another privately held direct marketer's holiday season: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., Waterbury, CT. Despite some of the company's catalogs having taken twice as long as expected to reach recipients because of postal troubles, the company's overall direct-to-consumer business was up 20 percent this holiday season, said T.J. Whalen, director of brand and market development.


"Our Web numbers were right where we thought they'd be, in some cases better," he said, though he declined to quantify. "I will say that our print catalog business was impacted by the mailing situation, and our Web business was impacted less so."


Overall, shopping sites drew an average of 51.3 million visitors each week during the 2001 holiday shopping season, an increase of 50 percent over 2000 and 95 percent over 1999, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, New York.


"[W]e're left with one inescapable truth: The Internet has become an integral part of holiday shopping," Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research, said in a statement put out by Jupiter. "Unlike 2000, when online shopping started strong but then fell off, online shopping this year started strong and ended even stronger."


It also was the year that traditional retailers established dominance over so-called pure plays, according to Jupiter.


"With a few exceptions such as Amazon, the dominant retailers that sell merchandise directly from their sites tend to be affiliated with brick-and-mortar stores and catalogs," said senior analyst Ken Cassar.


Traffic among the seven traditional retailers that made Jupiter's list of the top 15 sites rose 73 percent over last year, Cassar said. The top three traditional retailers according to their average daily unique visitors each week during the 2001 holiday shopping season were Columbia House's sites, with 598,000 average daily unique visitors; Toysrus.com, 515,000; and Barnesandnoble.com, 447,000.


In related news, ColumbiaHouse.com, Fingerhut.com and OverStock.com respectively were the three fastest growing e-tailers for the 2001 holiday season, based on total shopping trips to the sites according to audience measurement firm Nielsen//Netratings, Milpitas, CA.


Continuity club marketer Columbia House's online arm easily outdistanced the pack in terms of growth with 25.3 million visits during November and December, compared to close to 8 million for the same period in 2000.


Trips to low- to mid-income household-focused cataloger Finger Hut Cos.' Web site, Fingerhut.com, rose from 3.3 million in November and December of 2000 to 8 million in those two months in 2001.


During the same periods, business-to-consumer clearance marketer OverStock.com saw holiday shopping visits to its site more than double, from 6.2 million to 13 million.


To reach their figures both Jupiter and Nielsen monitor the Web surfing behavior of a panel of volunteers and extrapolate.


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