Some Sectors See Big Rebound in Online Shopping

Just as a typhoon cannot disrupt the ocean tides, neither can a terrorist attack permanently alter well-established economic patterns, experts say.

Just as a typhoon cannot disrupt the ocean tides, neither can a terrorist attack permanently alter well-established economic patterns, experts say.

As an encouraging illustration that business can return to normal quickly, online researcher and comparative shopping e-retailer reported that online sales — which dropped 39 percent the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — rebounded to 97 percent of normal within two weeks of the tragedy.

Just six days after the attack, sales across the sector were at 89 percent of normal, reported.

Specifically, BizRate found:

• Computer software experienced a tremendous rebound last week. On Monday, Sept. 24, it generated $8 million in online sales, 43 percent growth over the Monday before the attacks.

• Big-ticket categories like Computer hardware are not rebounding as quickly. Sales volume on Monday, Sept. 24 was $16.57 million, or 8 percent of corresponding sales on Monday, Sept. 10.

• Food and wine, sports and outdoors equipment and apparel have shown the most aggressive recovery. Sales have grown above pre-attack levels to 137 percent, 113 percent and 107 percent for the week ended Monday, Sept. 24.

• One of the biggest losers the day of the attacks was gifts and flowers, which posted a 62 percent loss on Sept. 11. But it experienced a strong surge in online sales in the days immediately following, showing a 33 percent growth from the 11th to the 12th as consumers logged on to send condolence gifts.

Bizrate expected 33 percent of all 2001 online sales to be generated between October and December. Key to winning those sales, BizRate noted, will be exceptional customer service — particularly for on-time shipping, customer support and order tracking.

Also driving the e-commerce sales this holiday season, said, will be women. Females are leading the recent resurgence and charging into the holiday shopping season. They comprised 55 percent of online shoppers in 2000, compared with only 39 percent in 1998.

Long-term, students of online retailing have detected other issues and patterns that may help companies shape their businesses.

In a study released earlier this year titled "The State of Online Retailing," reported that online retailing is now a mainstream buying option, especially for computer hardware and software, books and travel. Naturally, the terrorist attack will hit travel hardest.

The future of online retailing will be characterized by continuing growth and rapid change, increasingly reaching the two-thirds of adults who have not yet shopped online, the study said. More study findings: New industry leaders will emerge based on their ability to mine and use customer data. Manufacturers and retailers will increasingly partner to share information and test offerings prior to launch. Also, broadband will improve the richness and quality of the shopping experience sooner than many retailers expect.

The study added that convenience, ease of use and inventory availability will continue to drive consumer interest, browsing and purchases, but Web-based retailers will need to reduce their acquisition cost per customer significantly if they are to be viable. The average acquisition cost per customer is almost four times that of catalogers that build on well-known brands.