STRONG HOLIDAY EXPECTED FOR E-TAIL

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Apparel e-tailers can expect their customer traffic to rocket a combined 51 percent this December, among people shopping from home in the U.S., totaling 5.6 million users, up from the 3.7 million who visited their Web sites a year earlier.
That was one compelling find of an online holiday shopping forecast released Wednesday by Nielsen/NetRatings, an Internet audience measurement service mounted jointly by Nielsen Media Research and NetRatings Inc.
One reason for the anticipated surge, said Sean Kaldor, vice president of e-commerce at NetRatings, is the burgeoning number of apparel merchants in cyberspace as well as the sizable number of players that have souped up their Web sites this year — an eclectic group that ranges from upscale stores such as NeimanMarcus.com and Nordstrom.com to mass marketers like BlueLight.com, Target.com and Sears.com.
Overall, Nielsen/NetRatings expects 55 million people to shop online from home in December, which would mark a leap of 25 percent over the 41 million users who did so a year earlier. The audience measurement service also sees a 270 percent surge in people shopping for toys over the Web from home this December, a 109 percent increase in users shopping for consumer electronics, and a 65 percent increase in those seeking books, videos, and recorded music online.
“Despite the current wave of pessimism on Wall Street regarding e-tailers, our figures show there is strong promise for e-commerce overall, even though some e-tailers are not viable [ongoing businesses],” Kaldor contended.
The new holiday projections, he said, were gleaned from 10 “representative” e-tail sites monitored by Nielsen/NetRatings during August: Gap.com, OldNavy.com, JCPenney.com, Victoriassecret.com, Amazon.com, BN.com, BestBuy.com, eToys.com, toysrus.com and CDNow.com.
“The number of users at those sites increased 45 percent from August ’99, while the overall population of Internet users grew by 35 percent,” Kaldor noted. “Our holiday projections are based on extrapolating that activity for the upcoming season.”
Also figuring to play into the picture, Kaldor predicted, are conversion rates that he expects to gain momentum during the next two months. Even the most heavily trafficked Web sites have struggled to convert significant numbers of their shoppers into purchasers, and according to Kaldor, e-tail conversion rates typically range between 2 percent and 15 percent, but top out at around 7 percent for apparel commerce sites.
“In December, conversion rates tend to double, so it could be a good month for e-tailers,” he offered.
“Generally, it takes six to 12 months before you get into your groove, converting shoppers into buyers,” Kaldor said. “Books and travel sites tend to have the highest conversion rates. This summer, 3.1 percent of the people who went to OldNavy.com made a purchase there. Those with the best ability to convert tend to be those who have a store and catalog presence.”
Kaldor also anticipates fashion e-tailers will get a lift this holiday from the gradually increasing penetration of broadband technology, which enables clearer product images and faster downloads of Web sites, as well as better facilitating features that aid apparel purchasing online, like the 3D Manolo Blahnik boutique at NeimanMarcus.com.
“Broadband’s penetration of home users is at 10.2 percent today, versus 5 percent in October 1999,” Kaldor pointed out. “When you add to that the number of people accessing the Net from connections at work, where they have the ability to see things in higher resolution, it bodes well for the apparel sites.”

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