Brick and mortars help boost online holiday sales

By Jessica Davis, InfoWorld |  Business

AS BRICK-AND-MORTAR RETAILERS staged a comeback with improved Web sites, online sales rose 60 percent across the board for the holiday season. Online sales surged to $6 billion, according to BizRate.com in Los Angeles. Even as those higher sales numbers were unveiled, brick-and-mortar companies were reporting flat or declining sales for physical stores.

"Considering the several macro-economic factors hampering the overall retail sector, this was a good holiday season for online retail," said Chuck Davis, president and CEO of BizRate.com

It was an especially good holiday season for those brick-and-mortar companies who cleaned up their acts online.

"The 2000 season will be best remembered for the onslaught of brick-and-mortar stores [online]," said Sean Kaldor, vice president of e-commerce at Nielson/NetRatings in New York. "In total, established offline brands account for 11 of the top 15 holiday e-tailers."

Sales growth at those click-and-mortar sites outpaced the growth at pure-play e-tailers, according to Seth Geiger, vice president of professional services at BizRate.com.

"When you've got an influx of inexperienced online shoppers coming in, they will gravitate toward the brands they know best," Geiger said.

WalMart.com emerged as a force to be reckoned with, even as the company's physical stores registered flat sales.

Following a redesign, which forced the site down for several weeks this fall, WalMart.com site traffic grew by 570 percent, Kaldor said.

WalMart.com's redesign also significantly improved the site's conversion rate -- or the percentage of customers who visit the site end up buying something. Before the redesign the site's conversion rate sat at 1 percent. After the redesign, as the holiday season was getting into swing, that rate rose to 5 percent -- a very high number, Kaldor said.

eToys surfaced as the big loser for the year, experiencing almost no growth in sales over last year, according to Kaldor.

E-tailers also cleaned up their fulfillment acts in the holiday 2000 shopping season, according to BizRate. A full 88 percent of online orders were delivered on time this year, according to BizRate's preliminary data for the period from Nov. 20 through Dec. 15, up from last year's 74 percent, according to BizRate.

eCRM vendor eConvergent's collection of "best and worst" holiday e-tailing customer service experiences mirrored the available marketing data -- some good, some bad, none earth-shattering.

One online customer told Pleasanton, Calif.-based eConvergent that BestBuy.com didn't ship his complete order of DVD movies and it took "four days, five phone calls, and two e-mails" before BestBuy.com credited his account.

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