February 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Valentine’s Day busy online with flowers, gift cards—and fraud

Online shoppers spent 8.5% more on Valentine’s Day this year on gift items than on the same day in 2007, according to payments processor Retail Decisions. Gift cards were the most purchased Valentine’s Day items purchased online, followed by roses, chocolates and cookies.

Internet Retailer

Heart-shaped boxes of candy took a back seat to gift cards this Valentine’s Day holiday, but overall, online shoppers did show the love. This year, they spent an average of $142.70, 8.48% more than they did last year, on gift items from Feb. 1 to 11, according to data from Retail Decisions, an online payments processor and fraud detection services vendor.

Gift cards were the most-purchased Valentine’s Day gift items bought online, followed by roses, chocolates and cookies. Gift cards also were the top choice in the Valentine’s Day gift category for attempted fraudulent transactions, Retail Decisions says.

Men were more likely to turn to the Internet for Valentine’s Day giving than were women, who tended to go to stores. Retail Decisions drew its data from its client base, which includes multi-channel merchants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy’s.

Traffic jams

More gift-giving via the web was good news for online retail overall, but it backfired on some sites where performance sagged under heavier traffic than they were prepared to handle on Valentine’s Day. Among them were some e-gift card sites, hit heaviest on Feb. 14 rather than earlier in the cycle.

According to site performance monitoring services vendor Keynote Systems Inc., page loading times on Hallmark Cards Inc.’s Hallmark.com were significantly slower and at times the site was unavailable on Feb. 14. From 8 a.m. Eastern Time throughout the morning, the home page loading time grew from 1.5-2 seconds to 12-18 seconds, at times reaching a minute or more. A Hallmark spokeswoman says the site was up continuously. However, with most web browsers timing out after a minute, a delay of that length in effect makes a web page unavailable to site visitors, Keynote says.

The site’s performance improved by 11 a.m. Eastern Time but declined again as West Coast shoppers went online. The Hallmark spokeswoman says that though Hallmark worked to remedy the situation, heavy traffic threatened performance problems for the site for the rest of the day.

American Greetings Corp.’s AG.com, BlueMountain.com and 123Greetings.com all experienced delayed response times on Valentine’s Day, according to Keynote. Egreetings.com experienced a slowdown on the afternoon before the holiday, Feb. 13, but those issues were resolved overnight and the site showed no diminution of performance on Feb. 14, Keynote reports. Two other popular sites receiving heavy holiday traffic, 1-800-Flowers.com and JacquieLawson.com, exhibited no significant performance problems on Valentine’s Day, Keynote says.

Shawn White, director of external operations for Keynote, says that with planning, performance glitches-even for sites getting higher-than-average traffic volume-are “completely avoidable. Retailers should be planning for days like this, doing load testing and measuring themselves versus their competition.”

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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