EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 4, 2012

A virtual retail war

Bricks-and-mortar merchants battle online competitors for holiday dollars


Meanwhile, online heavyweights are beefing up for the holidays as well.

Amazon is typically tight-lipped about holiday plans. Last year the retailer raised a ruckus by offering a 5 percent discount for smartphone users if they checked the prices of goods on their price-comparison app in a physical store but ended up buying it on Amazon instead.

EBay, the online auction and retail site, is dabbling in same-day delivery in San Francisco for shoppers who buy using its eBay Now application. Valets will hand-deliver diapers, shoes or even toilet paper to a place of the customer’s choosing.

“We can get items from their phone to their door in as little as an hour,” spokeswoman Johnna Hoff said.

Jonathan Johnson, president of bargain site Overstock.com, said e-commerce is “the way it’s going to go.”

“The prices are better; it’s more convenient,” Johnson said. “Particularly with gas prices high and the ease of returns, online is well positioned for the holiday season.”

Fashion retailer Karmaloop.com is offering free shipping through the holidays. E-commerce “is almost overtaking brick-and-mortar,” company spokeswoman Abigail Jansen-Lonnquist said.

“The online platform can be used to comparison shop and really make sure that when times are tight, you get the best deal and can hit 10 stores without leaving the baby or finding a baby sitter or driving,” Jansen-Lonnquist said.

Analysts say despite all the hoopla, temporary holiday promotions may not help traditional retailers in the long run.

“The current strategy these guys have of matching prices is not a sustainable long-term strategy,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, an e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research. “They have to come up with a compelling store experience and figure out what kind of new services or products will make a store compelling. Because Amazon is really hurting physical retailers.”

At least this holiday season, they can count on business from Jessica Barreno, 18, a college freshman in Claremont, Calif. Although she shops quite a bit online, Barreno said that marathon sessions at the mall with her mother have been an annual Christmas tradition.

“I like the personal experience of actually going into stores,” she said. “And if this year I can get a good deal, that would be even better.”

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