E-COMMERCE CLINIC: 'tis the season to be jolly

E-COMMERCE CLINIC: 'tis the season to be jolly

Christmas shoppers are going online in record numbers and, according to a leading Australian analyst, $150 million was spent online last Christmas in Australia alone by some 598,000 Australian Internet users. Deloitte and Touche, in its annual holiday spending survey conducted along with the American National Retailers Foundation, found that 82 per cent of consumers are expected to spend more this year than last.

The falling Australian dollar could potentially mean a very lucrative Christmas for Australian retailers. Australian shoppers will look to local retailers because overseas sites such as Amazon will be too expensive. Overseas shoppers looking to grab a bargain may also cast their browsers toward Australia.

Figures from last Christmas provide an adequate picture of what went wrong, what customers expect and why consumers are shopping online. There are many online retailers, so what will be the difference between a sensational site spreading Christmas cheer and a poor one left with an empty stocking?

1) Fulfilment

Last Christmas delivery of goods and fulfilment of orders was a nightmare for Australian retailers. Many popular items such as Pokemon trading cards and Millennium Barbie were out of stock at the major online stores. This year e-tailers must look at what is hot and make sure their suppliers can handle the demand for orders. Savvy shoppers this Christmas will not accept Santa being late this year. They will simply go to your competitors.

With millions of items to be delivered in the two weeks before Christmas, many courier companies withdrew their overnight delivery guarantees. Some desperate executives such as dstore's David Gold loaded up their cars and became couriers. This year, courier companies and Australia Post are more prepared for the online Christmas rush and hopefully have learned from the mistakes of last year. This should mean more reliable delivery of goods.

The good news for Australian e-tailers is that according to Ian Webster, senior analyst at www.consult, "Australian consumers have different expectations to US consumers. Australians have not been habituated to next day delivery". What this means for Aussie e-tailers is that most Australians tend to do their online shopping a little earlier and are not placing orders the day before Christmas.

2) Excellent customer service

According to the eHoliday Shopping Report produced by eMarketer, last year nearly half of the year's virgin shoppers purchased for the first time during the Christmas period. This is fantastic for e-tailers offering exceptional customer service. Christmas is providing the bait to lure customers to your store. If you provide high-quality service, it will ensure that the consumer keeps swimming in your water.

Customer service is more than simply having helpful telephone staff to answer customer enquiries. It also includes customer-friendly returns policies, reasonable shipping costs that are clearly displayed and consumer-focussed privacy policies.

3) Make sure your servers can cope with the Xmas rushThe Christmas rush may be intensive on your servers. Last year several major retail sites crashed under the pressure of additional visitors. Companies are looking to specialist outsourced providers, like PSInet that can expand your bandwidth as you require it.

4) Don't discount at the expense of your bottom lineThe three most common reasons consumers are doing their Christmas shopping online are to save time, to avoid the crowds and to shop at a time that is convenient. Saving money is a factor, but is not a primary motivator for online purchasers.

Amanda Mason is Communications Manager at Pure Commerce. Contact her at

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