MEDIA WATCH: It's beginning to look a lot like an economic slowdown

E-tailers worked overtime this year to prepare for the holiday rush.

E-tailers worked overtime this year to prepare for the holiday rush.

E-tailers worked overtime this year to prepare for the holiday rush.

After burning customers last year with missed delivery dates and lost packages, big names like and started working a year ago with delivery masters like UPS and FedEx to better their supply chain management. However, with the economy cooling off, many retailers and e-tailers found the holiday season to be a meager one. Their efforts did not exactly pay off in increased sales.

Most media concurred that e-tailers did improve customer service from last year. Making their sites more user-friendly and less prone to crashes, many retailers also realized they needed to set realistic delivery deadlines, as last year's over-promising left many customers disappointed. 'Our goal is to give the control to our customer,' said customer care director Lori Gagnon of Kmart's Bluelight. com (Newsday, December 14). 'We want to be real with them.'

But has it been all for naught? The economy is seeing much lower growth rates this year than last, and the dot-bomb has deflated, if not outright erased, the fat portfolios of many would-be big-spenders this year. Most journalists pointed out that consumer spending has been down this holiday season across the retail sector, and online stores are not immune.

As many analysts noted, successful 'click-and-mortar' sites such as JC Penney, Sears and Wal-Mart will come to dominate the world of e-commerce. Analysts wondered if e-tailers will survive this year.

While Internet pure plays like eToys are busy trying to build the distribution infrastructure for their goods, traditional retailers are able to concentrate on multi-channel selling and capitalizing on their established brand-trust.

Best Buy spokeswoman Laurie Bauer said, 'We believe the options we have created integrating our stores and our Web site will be a winner for us.

We don't want customers to be able to see any difference between the two.' (Sun-Sentinel, December 17)

A number of media focused on the delivery side of the business, and how companies such as UPS and FedEx are working to reap the benefit of e-commerce as sites outsource their shipping needs. The delivery companies are also trying to rebuild their images, which many say were unfairly tarnished last year when e-tailers failed to anticipate their sales volumes, leaving deliverers with too many packages and too little time. While the delivery advice helps the e-tailers avoid shipping headaches this time of year, shipping companies also gain favorable coverage for operating almost as consultants to online retailers.

Improvements aside, some journalists couldn't help but resurrect the ghost of Christmas past. Some recognized the reduced sales in the retail sector overall, but pointed out that many customers are staying away especially from online shopping because they were burned last year. Many journalists said that this helps to explain why sites of established vendors are doing well, with the few online shoppers still out there flocking to and Kmart's Bluelight. com instead of eToys.

The economy is cooling off, and nervous consumers and investors are shying away from Internet pure plays. While many journalists recognized the improvements made by e-tailers this year, the media seem to be disillusioned with dot-coms and are pinning their hopes on traditional companies to keep the Internet alive and clicking.

- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at

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