Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Cybershopping is now projected to surge by an extra $1 billion this holiday season and it’s not because of heightened safety concerns.
At least, that is what cybershoppers said in an Internet confidence poll released Monday by Yahoo Inc. and A.C. Nielsen. The two companies now estimate consumers will spend $12.4 billion on holiday-related goods and services this year — and apparel is expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
But it isn’t all good news for alternative retail channels. The Direct Marketing Association said Monday that direct-marketing sales and ad spending have considerably slowed in the last seven weeks since the attacks of Sept. 11.
The projections from the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo and Nielsen, based here, represent a sharp increase on the amount they predicted only six weeks ago in their standard third-quarter Internet consumer confidence snapshot. The prediction was made just before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and conveyed U.S. consumers’ plans to spend $11.4 billion online during the holiday season.
“We decided it would be important to update our Internet confidence poll after Sept. 11 — to look for any dramatic differences — and I am a bit surprised at the $1 billion increase in planned spending,” said Rob Solomon, vice president and general manager at Yahoo Shopping unit. “During the weeks following Sept. 11, a growing number of people used the Internet to send e-mail, follow the news, make charitable donations,” Solomon noted. These activities, he reasoned, helped more people become familiar and comfortable with the medium, and thus appears to have boosted their confidence in transacting e-commerce.
“Even with security issues continuing to dominate news headlines,” Solomon added, “84 percent of Internet users firmly reject the notion they intend to shop online due to concerns about shopping in large public places.”
Yahoo is forecasting that fashion merchandise will be one of two top-selling categories online for holiday 2001, along with computers and other consumer electronics, traditionally a best-selling sector on the Web. “Sales of apparel [via Yahoo’s merchant partners] have taken off dramatically this year,” Solomon said, without disclosing volumes. “On a given day, 25 to 50 percent of our customers at Yahoo Shopping are browsing apparel sites, making it the number one category some days, in terms of how many people are shopping those areas.
“This is very surprising,” Solomon told WWD. “We didn’t expect to see this [level] for another year or two.”
Asked to explain the growth in apparel business at Yahoo this year, the shopping unit executive cited the brand-name mantra. “We have a strong range of store brands,” Solomon said, citing Gap, Ann Taylor, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer and J.C. Penney Co. as examples of robust e-tail partners.
When asked how business has been in Yahoo’s luxury-shopping area — which includes companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Bros. and eluxury.com — since Sept. 11, Solomon replied: “We haven’t seen any major decline in traffic, but we haven’t seen any increases either. The business is about the same.”
Overall, Yahoo expects U.S. shoppers to shell out $17.5 billion for Internet purchases during the fourth quarter, or about twice as much as they spent a year earlier, and a 9 percent hop over the $16 billion forecast for the quarter in the Yahoo-Nielsen survey taken only six weeks earlier. Approximately 65 percent of the Northeasterners polled this month said they’ll do some holiday spending on the Web, up from 45 percent in the September poll; while 60 percent of all those contacted this month plan to do some shopping online this holiday, up from the 54 percent who said they’d do so when asked six weeks earlier.
Yahoo and Nielsen began the Internet confidence snapshot during the second quarter of this year, so there are no prior-year comparisons for those figures. The surveys are based on a panel of 1,000 adults who are contacted by phone via computer-aided, random-digit dialing and who may or may not currently be using the Internet. They are designed to measure consumers’ attitudes about their experience shopping online; their confidence in products and services obtained there, and their intent to spend in cyberspace.
“The trend of growing confidence in the Internet and e-commerce is clearly being driven by the convenience, speed and information capabilities of the Internet, and not by fears of terrorist attacks,” maintained Travyn Rahll, managing director at ACNielsen International Research, in a joint Yahoo-Nielsen statement. “This is a key distinction to be made for online retailers who are reexamining their marketing strategies post-Sept. 11.”
Meanwhile, at the DMA conference in Chicago on Monday, former president George Bush, said the enemy of business is “instability and unpredictability” and urged Americans to “not be cowed into fearful submission” by the recent terrorist attacks. “I believe the common values of the civilized world will prevail over the law of the jungle,” Bush said.