December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Ghost of Christmas past

The shortcomings of Christmas past grabbed headlines deep into the summer. But have e-retailers learned from the mistakes of 1999, or will online shoppers find more late deliveries and out-of-stock items this season?

Ball State University Marketing Professor James Lowry believes the lessons have been learned. One of the tell-tale signs, Lowry says, is that e-retailers have invested heavily in inventory processes by adding package-tracking software to monitor merchandise from sale to delivery. They also have hired experts to improve quality control and have built distribution centers.

Retailers are taking a more careful look at which items will likely be hot sellers and working with their suppliers to make sure the items are available, Lowry says. Their inventory control methods are being overhauled. “This is something they’ve been doing all year.”

But even with beefed up fulfillment capabilities, regaining consumer confidence will take time. “You don’t establish an image in the eyes of the consumer in just one shot,” Lowry says.

After examining outside research and published reports, Lowry does not expect holiday Internet sales to drop off from 1999. In fact, he says: “A lot of the problems are going to be resolved and sales will increase over last year.”

Adding value is one way retailers can win back consumer confidence. Lowry says most e-retailers have some kind of added value in their plans. “Maybe its going to be lower pricing, free shipping or delivery guarantee,” he says. “If you play that extra-value card, you can attract some of the customers who were dissuaded last year because of snafus.”

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