Holiday Race 2000

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, let the frenzied consumerism begin! The starting gun to the holiday shopping season started even before the last wishbone had been pulled apart, with so-called economics experts predicting a lukewarm retail season.

With last year’s online Christmas shopping fiascos still fresh in our minds, all eyes on Wall Street are waiting to see how forgiving the consuming public is — or isn’t.

What!? No Gravy!??

Already the season is off to a bumpy start with sites like WebVan slowing to a crawl before the turkey-and-gravy glut of Thanksgiving. WebVan ran out of such staples as pumpkin-pie filling and turkey stuffing.

A lot of financial “I told you so” analysts are reminding us that the Internet hype is dying off and now these dot-com companies had better shape up or else. They’ve had a free ride long enough with little expectations placed on them in terms of profitability or even delivery of the goods.

But is that really true?

How many brick-and-mortar stores didn’t run out of something or other in the rush? Do all mail-order products arrive on time? Are all merchandise returns to retail stores easy and trouble-free?

There seems to be a higher expectation placed on online businesses during the holidays. A web site slows down slightly during increased traffic, and shoppers — fueled by the media’s hunger for glitches — blow a gasket. So what, you have to wait an extra minute for a page to download??

To shop in a brick-and-mortar store, you still have to get dressed, drive to the location, circle like a vulture around exiting shoppers in the parking lot while you look for a spot, wander around the store, fight crowds shouldering each other over the bargain bin, stand in line while some temporary holiday clerk learns to work the register, and then schlep your stuff home. That certainly would take more than a mere minute or two!

Next in Line, Please

Even with’s reported 30-minute outage, we could still buy, gift-wrap, and mail our gifts faster than it would have taken by foot. If 1.3 million people went to your local department store on the Friday after Thanksgiving like they went to Amazon, you’d likely suffer some slowdowns, too!

Analysts are menacingly wagging their collective index finger at online retailers, suggesting that if they don’t do well this year, they might not see holiday season 2001. Are they doing the same to brick and mortars?

Granted, patience has run thin among investors and the public. The cocky, “We’re with the ‘in’ crowd” attitude of some e-businesses — demonstrated by incomprehensible too-hip-for-this advertising campaigns — has been annoying, to say the least. So the media, the investors, and the public are all too accommodating to put them in their place when life turns a bit sour.

But brick-and-mortar retail giants haven’t exactly been the epitome of humble servants, focused on customer service, either. More than once we’ve seen broken, torn, and nearly destroyed merchandise in department stores. We’ve seen long lines at the return-refund desk the week after the holidays. Why is this any more acceptable than a delay online?

The fact is, none of it is acceptable, but consumers accept it anyway, rewarding companies with an expected $198 billion in holiday sales this year, according to the National Retail Federation Foundation.

So before we all lament the end of online shopping because of a few glitches — accompanied by plenty of media hype — just consider the glitches and hassles you’ve been willing to tolerate your entire life and that will put it in perspective.

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