Fast Company

Lessons from the Online Retailing Field

Last January, we re-connected with Hilary Billings (keep scrolling down!), a customer experience guru who had migrated from Pottery Barn to Red Envelope, the tony, high-touch Web-based gift shop. Billings expressed her concern that as the company grew, its ability to offer such appealing elements as hand-tied bows would be compromised. So it was with some sadness that we saw the New York Times story, "RedEnvelope, a Web Retailer, is too popular for its own good," about the company's trouble fulfilling holiday orders.

That was the bad news. The good news is that online sales for the holidays are predicted to top $65 billion this year, a 24% increase over 2003.

Kelly Mooney, whose company, Ten/Resource, has tracked holiday sales at 40 leading Web sites for the past 7 years, said customers, this year, had greater product selection, enhanced functionality, and increased flexibility when it came time to buy. But the experience was not without its bumps and bruises.

Ten/Resource has published its high points and low marks for the season -- and it's willing to name names. Their report is worth a look. We won't reveal all the findings, but let's just say that Red Envelope was hardly alone.

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