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For Online Retailers, It's Showtime

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Posted December 13, 2001 By Beth Cox     Feedback

Deliverywise, it's put up or shut up, and Internet retail sites are competing in their efforts to assure that holiday gifts will get there on time.

If you're an online retailer selling anything that might remotely be considered a holiday gift, it's time to roll out your last-minute delivery plans, and that's just what companies from America Online to Yahoo! are doing.

AOL's Shop@AOL e-commerce operation launched an online catalog featuring quick-click gifts "sure to arrive by Christmas Day."

And Yahoo! Shopping, that portal's e-commerce effort, said it will launch its Last Minute Shopping area Dec. 14, listing all retailers who can ship to procrastinating gift-buyers.

Amazon.com, meanwhile, has a wholelist of deadlines posted on the site. Noon PST Dec. 22 is the latest you can get a physical gift sent with a promise of on-time delivery. But even on Dec. 24, Amazon will be happy to sell you a magazine subscription or a gift certificate with an e-card.

Rival bookseller BarnesandNoble.com is offering free shipping on two or more items if ordered by Dec. 18, the cut-off date for Christmas delivery. Lands End, the apparel cataloger that also has a Web operation, has a shopping calendar posted right on the main page. Dec. 20 is the last day to order online.

MSN.com has an "Easy Last-Minute Gifts" area called Procrastination Central with links to a variety of merchant partners who can deliver for shoppers who play beat-the-clock. One partner. 1800flowers.com, allows shoppers to order some things as late as 10 a.m. on Dec. 24.

AOL has an interesting wrinkle this year, having set up an instant holiday gift feature for users of its Instant Messenger service. From the AIM Today welcome screen, visitors can send gifts ranging from stuffed teddies and holiday baskets to stress reducer bath sets and space age bottle stoppers.

Consumers choose a gift from the AIM Instant Gifts catalog; choose a recipient from their Buddy List or provide an e-mail address; enter their own AIM Screen Name in the "From" field; fill out billing information, and add a personal greeting. An instant message "Gift Alert" is automatically sent and the recipient needs only to click on the highlighted link to choose to accept the gift, and then provide their shipping information for delivery.

The Instant Gifts feature is powered by Zipsend, a San Francisco-based company specializing in sending anything anywhere, using an e-mail address or other online identity as the recipient's real-world delivery address.

All this effort is important this year not just because a company's reputation rides on getting fulfillment right, but also because the online retailers may be selling into a market that's expanding more slowly than expected.

In fact, the latest figures from Nielsen//NetRatings and Harris Interactive show that e-commerce spending in November 2001 jumped only 10 percent from November 2000.

The eCommercePulse data, collected from an online survey of 34,000 Web users, shows that national concerns over the events of Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism, plus a softer U.S. economy, are affecting holiday spending.

The latest month's data reveal that e-commerce sales rebounded to $5.3 billion, on par with pre-September spending levels. However, spending rose 14 percent from October to November, half of the 29 percent increase seen in 2000.

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