RealTime IT News

Shoppers Have High, E-Apple Pie Hopes

Consumers who shop the Web this holiday season will have higher expectations than ever before, and many online businesses may not be prepared, says a new industry study.

In polling the top management at 150 e-tailers and comparing their thoughts with those of 600 consumers, AT&T said it found that 97 percent of the consumers who shopped online during the 1999 holiday season expect to shop online in this season.

And among consumers who did not shop online in 1999, half said they plan to give it a try during the 2000 holiday season. In fact, online shopping volume is likely to increase as high-speed Internet access modes, such as DSL and cable modems, grow in popularity, AT&T said.

"The 2000 holiday season will be a make-or-break season for many online retailers," said Kathleen Earley, president of AT&T Data and Internet Services. "Last year proved to be a training ground for companies. Some Web businesses reaped the financial rewards of being well prepared for the holiday crush. This year, even more consumers will be online, and their expectations are high, so businesses have to gear up. If they don't, they'll be shut out."

What do consumers want? Well, privacy, for one thing. The survey found that more than three-fourths of respondents said concern about the security of their personal and financial information affects their willingness to shop online.

What else? Half of the respondents say businesses should build Web sites that are more user-friendly. Consumers want faster download times and Web sites that don't crash during peak times.

They also want a better sense of where on the Internet they can find who's selling what. And of course they want be assured that products are in stock and will be delivered on time..

Interestingly, when senior decision-makers at online retailers were asked to review their performance during the 1999 holiday season, they gave themselves fairly low scores -- only two out of five rated their season as "very successful." And one quarter of businesses said last year's holiday season was "not at all successful."

What separates the successful from the unsuccessful? Pretty much just the basics. The AT&T study shows that nothing replaces a well-designed and well-functioning Web site, e-commerce experience, a strong customer focus and good external technology partners, especially in Web hosting.

AT&T said it has created an online shopping guide for consumers, "Tips for Cyber-Shopping," that is available on the company's Web site. The guide covers the basics of safe shopping online, and includes special sections on customer support, security and privacy, tips for parents and recognizing and dealing with fraud. The guide also includes information on how to contact the Washington, D.C.-based National Fraud Information Center and Internet Fraud Watch.

For businesses of all sizes , the company offers a variety of hosting options including a complete e-commerce solution as well as its Intelligent Content Distribution Service, which distributes Web site content throughout the "edge" of its IP infrastructure, thereby accelerating Web site download times, reducing server bottlenecks and protecting against Web site overload from too many visitors.