Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — It wasn’t a holiday season to set the world on fire, but the apparel business heated up in cyberspace nonetheless.
In the latest affirmation of cybershoppers’ growing penchant for purchasing fashion goods online, a new e-Visory report from market researcher NPD has found apparel was the second most popular category to buy on the Web during November and December, trumped only by the perennial best-selling book sector. The top five categories were rounded out by recorded music, which placed third, followed by toys, and then movies, videos, DVDs and other entertainment items.
Spurring the runup, in part, is the changing demographic of the cybershopper, who more than ever is looking like the mainstream U.S. consumer. According to NPD’s e-Visory report, based on a survey conducted this month of 2,439 members of its online panel, a little more than half of this year’s holiday purchasers were women; slightly more than one-third were over 45 years old, and half had annual household incomes below $60,000. NPD defined the holiday period as November and December and weighted the sample group to be representative of the Internet population.
Overall, holiday business on the Net shot up twofold versus the 1999 season, NPD claimed, but it did not specify figures in the e-Visory findings. Online holiday sales during 1999 ranged between roughly $7 billion and $10 billion, according to estimates from consultants such as Jupiter Research and Ernst & Young.
“People seem to be learning the nuances of online shopping,” observed Pamela Smith, vice president of NPD Online. “Since they did their online shopping earlier this year, issues like out-of-stock items or sites [being] temporarily down did not affect their overall satisfaction.”
In fact, the e-Visory survey showed that 57 percent of Net users who made holiday purchases online were “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with their Web shopping experience, and that 68 percent plan to buy something online during the first quarter. About 40 percent of cybershoppers said they’d make a purchase on the Web this month. In addition, 35 percent reported being “somewhat satisfied,” while 8 percent griped that they were “not too satisfied” or “not at all satisfied” with shopping online during November and December.
A few clouds dotted the generally favorable Internet holiday climate. More than one-third of cybershoppers, or 35 percent, said they found delivery fees too high, and 34 percent said lower fees or no fees would be the number one reason they’d shift more of their spending online from traditional stores.
And even though most online shoppers were satisfied in cyberspace this past holiday, 63 percent did encounter difficulty of some sort. Out-of-stock items were the biggest bugaboo, with 37 percent citing the phenomenon as a problem, followed by sites going down temporarily, with 23 percent noting they’d experienced such a problem; inability to find a particular item on a site, 21 percent; receiving an item ordered late, 14 percent; not receiving an item, 6 percent; poor customer service, 6 percent, and a site going out of business, 5 percent.
Still, NPD’s broader assessment remained bright. “Satisfied customers, double the revenue, fewer difficulties, high expectations for future online buying — we see 2000 as a very good year after all,” Smith concluded.

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