Online Shopping -- Unwrapped

<I>TSC</I> strips away the hype and uncovers the real stories of the season.
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Online shopping hype this season has become as high and unhinged as an eccentric uncle juiced on eggnog. E-commerce TV commercials are in constant rotation, insistently reminding consumers that power drills and


are a click away; online merchants are working themselves into a froth trying to measure up and cash in. If you love shopping, they promise a richer experience with more options. If you hate it, they nod solemnly, saying now it's easier and quicker than ever.

Even the predictions are becoming giddier:

Forrester Research

estimates $4 billion in sales between Thanksgiving and New Year's,

Jupiter Communications

pegs the figure at $6 billion for the entire holiday shopping season,

Boston Consulting Group

predicts $9 billion and

Ernst & Young

estimates a total of as much as $15 billion.

So, what's the real story?


decided to strip away the hype and look at some key areas that affect the success of online retailing this season and next.

  • First of all, success of these companies will be driven by their sites and the consumer's experience with them -- if the sites work, what they provide, how well they cater to customers. TSC ranks leading sites to see if they accomplish what they set out to do.
  • Many battles are being waged in different sectors for the top e-tailing spot, none more so than in the toy sector. But despite all the talk of early branding and owning the niche, all that could be swept away in a year. Katherine Hobson's piece on how Wal-Mart (WMT) - Get Report may storm the toy fortress could presage a fight we see in other areas.
  • To snag customers now, many e-tailers are offering free or low-cost shipping -- an area that's usually a profit center. Just what will that do to the company's bottom line? Joe Bousquin scrutinizes the foam peanut area.
  • If everybody complains about it, TSC will investigate it. Suzanne Kapner takes a close-up look at customer service, and Michelle Zangara and Bousquin see how the online experience measures up to the mall -- whether you hate it or love it. Zangara dove in with a specific purpose -- finding specific gifts on her list -- and headed for the shops that could satisfy the need. Bousquin was bereft of ideas and instead wandered the Internet aisles to see if something hopped into his lap as easily as it does in the mall.

Whether you love or hate online shopping, you can't avoid hearing about it this season. So, save yourself some frustration -- either with the contents of your shopping cart or your investment portfolio -- and let


help you cut through the snow of hype.