December 31, 2002, 12:00 AM

Christmastime and the clickin’ is good

A round-up of Holiday Shopping 2002.

As Christmas 2002 got closer, online retailers’ mood kept getting better-and for good reason. Overall retail sales during the holiday shopping season may have been disappointing, but nothing was stopping online consumers. In the two weeks from pre-Thanksgiving to Dec. 6, when shopping was in full swing, the proportion of online retailers who were optimistic about the results of holiday shopping increased 13%: 71 out of every 100 online retailers were feeling hopeful about the year vs. 63 two weeks before, reported the Shop.org/BizRate.com 2002 Online Holiday Mood Study.

They had reason to continue to grow their optimism as the season progressed: Online retail spending grew in double digits compared to the year before, and some days experienced triple-digit growth. Sales during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas matched the prior year’s sales, even though the traditional shopping season was a week shorter in 2002 than in 2001. For the full fourth quarter, online sales beat Q4 of 2001 by more than 30%, according to projections by comScore Networks Inc. and Internet Retailer at press date (Dec. 19).

Most retailers reported strong online sales, among them Kmart.com, which experienced 113% growth the weekend after Thanksgiving vs. a year ago; SharperImage.com, which reported 81% growth that weekend; and Overstock.com, which reported triple-digit growth throughout the shopping period.

Contributing to stronger sales through the holiday period were most retailers’ stellar web site performances. “We did not see any significant issues in retail sites’ availability or any serious performance fluctuations,” says Leslie Gaillard, product manager for vertical indices of web performance management and testing company Keynote Systems Inc. Availability of sites was usually at 98% or better and download times were generally no longer than 6 seconds. As important as the speed was the consistency, she says, with few retailers showing wild swings in the time it took their pages to download.

The high level of performance was generally due to better planning, says Roopak Patel, Keynote’s product manager for brand marketing services. “Retailers are getting much smarter about preparing for their busy time of year,” he says. “They’re getting ready not just two months out but as early as June and July. A lot of forethought went into turning performance issues into a non-event.”

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