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Christmas Gift Guide
Tech Industry

A movable feast

Online grocery stores could face their biggest holiday test this week--not next month--when they have to deliver Thanksgiving Day turkeys to hundreds of households.

Online grocery stores could face their biggest holiday test this week--not next month--when they have to deliver Thanksgiving Day turkeys to hundreds of households.

The results could be a barometer, at least anecdotally, of what's to come this e-tail season. One online grocer, Peapod, calls Thanksgiving week its

CNET TV: Customer service is key
CNET TV: Customer service is key
busiest time of the year. Like other grocers, it has stocked up on turkeys, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

"We've had a lot of experience with this," said Amy Larson, a senior marketing manager at Skokie, Ill.-based Peapod. "We are ensuring that we have enough resources in place." She added, however: "If we had all of Chicago ordering, that would be a problem."

HomeGrocer also is expecting a surge in business compared with last year, because it has expanded rapidly into places such as Portland, Ore., and Orange County, Calif. Webvan, flush with cash from its recent IPO, is gearing up, too.

Online grocers are one of the fastest growing businesses in the e-commerce world, having recruited top logistics executives to their ranks and having committed to spend billions of dollars to build high-tech distribution networks. (But beware: Webvan's site didn't work last week with an older version browser, Netscape 3.0).

To prepare for this week, Webvan is expanding its delivery hours in time for Turkey Day, offering Monday delivery and stretching its hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Peapod and HomeGrocer said they don't plan to increase delivery hours, but will maximize the loads on their refrigerated trucks to ensure timely delivery.

Like grocery stores, online grocers such as Homegrocer, Peapod and Webvan are selling turkeys with all the trimmings. Peapod, for instance, offers seven types of fresh turkey, plus a 10-pound smoked "Willie Bird" turkey for $32.90. Rather unglamorous-looking photos of the birds appear on the e-tailers' Web sites. Webvan offers organic Garnet yams for $1.57 per pound.

CNET TV: Online groceries
CNET TV: Online groceries
Just as in the ink-and-paper world, promotions jump out at online shoppers. Under a section called "Countdown to Turkey Day," Peapod offers tips for cooking a turkey. (For beginners: If you're buying a frozen turkey, be sure to allow ample thawing time.)

"Plan for leftovers," a Webvan promotion reads. "Receive a free Rubbermaid container with a turkey and rice soup recipe when you place your order to be delivered by November 24."

And Peapod offers after-dinner relief. Its Web site links to "stomach aids," under the heading, "Too much stuffing?"