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Christmas Commerce Heats Up Online
By Tony French, Forum Manager

The familiar Christmas refrain of "Shop, shop, shop" is being sung to a slightly different tune this year by shop owners themselves. Retailers are realising that a web site can give consumers far more detailed information about products, and faster access to a range of goods, than traditional retail stores. Add in lower operating costs for online stores, and the result is a trend where retailers may prefer customers to visit their web sites rather than their shops.

And, retailers know that Christmas is the perfect time to capture new visitors and turn them into long-term Internet customers. As consumers become more accustomed to spending money over the Internet and the time for holiday shopping shortens, it’s a great opportunity to turn Internet browsers into Internet shoppers.

According to Internet World, online shopping sites last Christmas experienced a huge increase in sales; total Internet expenditure in the weeks before Christmas rose from a 1997 figure of $2.7 billion to a 1998 figure of $800 billion. With a growth trend like that, it’s no surprise that savvy British retailers are going all out this season to steer traffic to their sites.

And the bonus for British consumers is more goods online from trusted retailers for easy shopping and easy delivery. Major players like Boots, Drinks Direct, and Waterstones have joined the lineup at Christmas UK, taking out virtual "storefronts" on a winter-wonderland High Street. For these retailers, it’s another channel to lure Christmas shoppers into their web sites. Giftstore UK also offers a shopping mall model, bringing a wide assortment of gift giving opportunities to shoppers all under one roof—the Giftstore UK web site.

Following on the heels of one of the greatest Internet success stories to date is Amazon.co.uk. This online bookseller’s American parent company (at amazon.com) is the top shopping site on the Internet. With $304 million in sales this year, the site regularly reaches somewhere between 8% and 10% of all Internet surfers each month. The company has launched Amazon sites in the UK and Denmark to offer the same great shopping and services in Europe, and is enjoying it’s initial success.

Will British consumers do their part in making this Christmas another record breaker? Certainly, indicators look promising. The spread of Internet technology, the growing acceptance of Internet commerce, and the boom in the number of UK stores online all point to a very, very jolly New Year for UK retailers.

Tony French previously managed The Microsoft Network's UK Business & Finance forum, and is the Managing Director of AF Stocktaking.

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