NEW YORK — About two years ago, e-commerce sites were striving to keep shoppers at their destination as long as possible, believing the more time they spend at a Web site, the more likely they’d be to run up a tab.

What a difference a dot-com bust can make. As it turns out, e-commerce sites that have survived and thrived in the considerably tougher virtual economy of 2003 are likely to be those that have made shopping a speedier experience. Streamlining has replaced stickiness as the platform for a profitable online store, as customers have grown more comfortable with shopping via the Web and more demanding of a convenient experience.

The latest evidence of this trend surfaced Tuesday, as research from The E-tailing Group indicated the overall shopping time in the Chicago-based firm’s 2003 back-to-school “Mystery Shopping Study” fell to 3.24minutes from 4.08 minutes in the fourth quarter of 2002. And the average number of clicks to complete checkout dropped to 3.76 from 4.93.

The b-t-s sample comprised 25 e-commerce sites, drawn from the 100 sites The E-tailing Group surveys for its annual holiday study.

The focus of today’s Web merchants, observed The E-tailing Group president Lauren Freedman, is on “improving the efficiency” of the customer’s shopping experience.

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