Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Internet Retailers Wish for Glitch-Free Season of Christmas Shopping

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Internet Retailers Wish for Glitch-Free Season of Christmas Shopping

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- If online retailers made a to-do list for this holiday season, their top priority would likely be: Keep shoppers smiling.

Internet shopping took off last Christmas at an unexpectedly rapid pace, but there were lots of glitches -- from late deliveries to shoddy customer service -- that left consumers frustrated, irritated and disappointed.

Now, as merchants big and small head into their busiest time of the year, they are hoping history won't repeat itself, especially since many spent the bulk of this year focused on improving the customer experience on their sites. "They can't afford any mistakes if they plan to stay in the game," said David Baltaxe, an analyst of Internet commerce at Current Analysis, a research firm in Sterling, Va.

Last year was an incredible holiday season for online merchants, with sales soaring well above predictions. The Web-retailing frenzy continued all this year, with millions of shoppers and thousands of businesses jumping into the fast-expanding online marketplace.

The sales growth is expected to accelerate this Christmas. Online research firm Jupiter Communications was set to announce last week that Internet sales this holiday season will reach an estimated $6 billion, almost double what they were a year ago.

But analysts say it's going to take a lot more this year for merchants to woo shoppers to their sites. The newness of the Internet can't alone drive sales anymore; shoppers want a hassle-free experience.

"It's great because there are so many sites out there offering so many options, some I could never find in stores," said Jamie Moody, a 27-year-old from Dallas who plans to do about 25 percent of her holiday shopping online. "But if I have any doubts about a site, I will not order from them."

Indeed, a recent study by online market research firm Bizrate.com found that Internet shoppers who have delivery troubles were 73 percent less likely to shop again from that merchant.

To ensure that last year's troubles won't haunt them again, online merchants have retooled their businesses.

They've made technology upgrades to help prevent sites from shutting down or slowing to a crawl due to heavy demand. …

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