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Holiday shoppers jam merchants' servers

With online retailers reporting record revenue days, Web merchants such as Buy.com and Toys R Us are also experiencing traffic overloads.

    With online retailers reporting record revenue days, Web merchants such as Buy.com and Toys R Us are also experiencing traffic overloads that are slowing or even crashing their sites.

    At Toys R Us, heavy traffic put its Web storefront out of business for several hours on Wednesday, but the site is back up now.

    "We anticipated volume, but it went up so dramatically that it was beyond anybody's expectations," Toys R Us spokeswoman Rebecca Caruso said, noting that the company has added more hardware to handle the traffic.

    Buy.com reported record revenues of $2 million yesterday after booking $1.7 million Tuesday in computer hardware, software, books, videos, and electronic games. It too was forced to add a new IBM mainframe today to handle the traffic after some users had problems accessing the site.

    "We have had more demand than we thought we'd have," Buy.com spokeswoman Kelli Tejada said.

    Buy.com is not the only retailer reporting record revenues. Software retailer Beyond.com, gadget marketer Sharper Image, and computer store Cyberian Outpost also reported heavier-than-expected traffic.

    Tonight Victoria's Secret, a well-known brand expected to be popular among male Net users, went live on the Net after delaying the launch, in part, because of concern over whether the storefront could handle heavy traffic.

    At eToys, an online-only toy retailer, vice president of marketing Phil Polishook won't disclose numbers but says the site is doing twice as much business as it planned to do--so far without technical problems.

    "Technically, we planned to be able to handle four times the traffic we expected," Polishook said.

    But he thinks the bigger bottleneck for online retailers will come in fulfilling orders, particularly for sites that don't have their own warehouse, as eToys does, but rely instead on distributors to fill orders.

    "The packages are getting out on time--we're just having to work harder than we thought," he said, noting that people from the marketing department are now packing boxes in the warehouse to keep up.

    Online software retailer Beyond.com said its sales jumped a whopping 700 percent over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

    Not surprisingly, gaming, entertainment, and educational software far surpassed databases and word processors among holiday shoppers. Beyond's gaming products saw a 200 percent increase over the previous four weekends. And the company's "Edutainment zone" enjoyed a 250 percent rise.

    The shopping season has also been good to Cyberian Outpost. On Monday, the company reported its first million-dollar day, and said holiday weekend orders were nine times higher than last year. Those numbers were no doubt helped by the company's first television and print ad campaign, which it launched in November.

    Of course, it's not just computer stuff that's selling well. Gift and novelty merchandiser Sharper Image said its online operations in November reported a 436 percent increase in sales over November of last year. Sharper Image also cites advertising for the increase.

    The company's most popular products both online and off are self-branded items, Sharper Image said. And, the company noted, those items yield higher gross margins, especially online, where prices can't be driven down by competition, since no other sites carry them.