Mother’s Day: The Next Big E-Commerce Test

With the holiday season dust long settled and several prominent e-tailers fighting for survival, this year’s Mother’s Day may well prove to be a turning point for e-commerce.

BizRate.com projects that Sunday’s event, the second busiest e-tail cycle of the year, could see a five-fold increase in sales over last year’s tally of 250,000 and generate up to $80 million (US$).

Although the figures are already optimistic, some industry analysts say the combination of a strong economy and increasing consumer confidence in the online shopping process could drive the numbers even higher.

Last Minute Shopping

The prospect of hordes of last-minute shoppers has online merchants working overtime and bolstering their staffs with additional employees, with some companies staying open for business around the clock.

“One big change we’re seeing this year is that people are shopping a lot closer to the holiday,” Jennifer Dulski, brand manager for Yahoo! Shopping, told the E-Commerce Times. “We see that as a good sign for e-commerce, a sign that consumers have more confidence in online shopping.”

Likewise, Ashford.com, a prime site for shoppers seeking high demand luxury items such as jewelry and perfume, is accepting orders up to 2 p.m. on Saturday, with a guarantee of delivery on Mother’s Day.

Of course, flowers are among the highest demand items for Mother’s Day, a fact not lost on Jim McCann, chief executive of 1-800-Flowers.com.

“This is by far the busiest week of the year,” said McCann, who points out that his company features 66 different gift items for Mother’s Day.

Key Issues: Fulfillment and Delivery

Some online retailers learned the hard way during last year’s holiday season that having all the bells and whistles on their Web sites was not enough. Consumers were more interested in strong customer service programs, dependable delivery and easy return policies.

Nordstrom.com, whose online version of its successful department stores has been officially live since November, is focusing on customer service. The company plans to expand its fulfillment center and add customer representatives as needed to maintain around-the-clock support.

As for returns, Nordstrom.com customers who use the store’s credit card will receive a postage-paid package for returns, and all customers have the option of returning merchandise ordered online to any of Nordstrom’s brick-and-mortar stores.

For its part, Yahoo! Shopping offers an easy-to-use Mother’s Day “gift recommender” to its visitors, as well as the Yahoo! Wallet, a feature that allows users to enter their billing information just once before making purchases at any of the 10,000 sites associated with the Yahoo! Shopping service.

Consumers Still Trust Big Names

Big names are positioned to win big this weekend, according to Jupiter Communications. “At least when it comes time for gift-giving, people tend to gravitate toward merchants that they know and trust,” said Jupiter analyst Ken Cassar. “They tend to buy from folks that they are fairly confident will not drop the ball.”

Included in that category are likely to be Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com — which are each heavily promoting gift certificates for Mother’s Day — and CDNow, which is touting its “Custom CD” feature that allows users to create a CD with up to 12 songs from various artists.

CDNow is also co-marketing itself with ProFlowers.com for the holiday.

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