As of this writing, 47 percent of all adult Americans have made an online purchase, and about 5 percent of all retail sales are now transacted online. After one decade of business, online shopping has established itself as a vibrant retail medium. We’re betting that this Holiday season, when the dust settles, e-commerce sales will break all records.

Some 86 million Americans will do at least some online shopping this Holiday season. And, according to New York–based JupiterResearch , e-commerce Web sites will influence 18 percent of all Americans— that is, those shoppers will browse sites but not necessarily make online purchases. The total online retail tally for the fourth quarter of 2004 is projected to top $22 billion, up more than 27 percent from the same quarter in 2003.

Somewhat surprising to many retail analysts was that last year’s top-dollar online retail segment was apparel, which previously had fallen behind travel, books, computers and other electronics, according to a recent study by Goldman Sachs and Nielsen/NetRatings . And the category looks like it will remain strong going into 2005.

Part of the reason is that shopping online is now generally perceived as safe. But the larger reason may be that the frequent early argument of most naysayers—that you cannot touch the merchandise prior to purchase—has become almost irrelevant. Sizing and color-accuracy issues have been well addressed by most online apparel stores, which now incorporate smarter software technologies and liberal, user-friendly return-and-exchange policies in their marketing. Free shipping is another big magnet for online purchasing growth this Holiday season.

The search factor

Getting “found” by the most popular search engines has become more important than ever. Big and small retailers alike can be on a level playing field—if they play the search game intelligently.

The way it works is simple: Paid search listings go to the highest bidder. Research published by the E-Commerce Times ( www.e-commercetimes.com ) shows that 33 percent of Internet users believe companies found in the top search results are major—i.e., credible— brands.

Comparison-shopping sites such as BizRate.com , Shopping.com and MySimon ( www.mysimon.com ) —meccas for the serious, committed bargain shopper—now offer paid placements, too. Shopzilla.com , a new spin-off of BizRate.com , has a shopping search engine that aggregates and organizes more than 25 million products from more than 45,000 stores. Boasting a patentpending shopping search technology that “multitasks,” the site considers contextual relevance (a.k.a. “fuzzy logic”), price comparisons, availability, store ratings and popularity simultaneously. It even understands sizing.

Because of these developments, 2004 was the year Sears, Roebuck and Co. jumped into online clothing sales in a big way, and Wal- Mart Stores Inc. , having withheld garment sales online since 2001, came back. Overstock.com is experiencing exceptional growth this Holiday season with a flood of off-priced, discontinued merchandise.

This is the year that e-commerce grew up. And clothing is king.

Site Review: The Wholesale Clothing Registry

The Wholesale Clothing Registry , based in Virginia Beach, Va., and newly online at www.wholesale-clothing.org , claims to offer the most inclusive directory of wholesale clothing suppliers to apparel retailers.

“I’ve built The Wholesale Clothing Registry to provide a vast directory of real wholesale suppliers to people who are interested in making money through online retail, traditional retail or selling on eBay ,” President Kirk Larson said.

Featuring more than 1,000 wholesale suppliers of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and footwear, apparel accessories, and handbags, this site shows great potential. It is a straightforward, wellorganized site with a user-friendly presentation.

One dollar will get you a two-day pass for a trial run. It’s a trip worth taking, but be forewarned that when you sign up for the trial, you will also be charged the full membership rate of $29.95 per month unless you cancel within 48 hours of your initial visit.

The site is so new that some areas are lacking in content, but the sources in most apparel categories are plentiful. The company will surely fill in the blanks as it updates and expands the site on a daily basis. This appears to be a fine start and a welcome addition to the resources available to apparel retailers.

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Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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