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Sites lag as shoppers throng online

Major retailers have been moving at a crawl in fulfilling Web orders, according to a survey. The upside is that online holiday shopping is up this year.

Calling it a "perfect online shopping storm," a survey of major retailers reported that events have conspired this season to send hordes of shoppers to the Internet, slowing major sites to a crawl.

Positive economic news, inclement weather, the "Code Orange" terror alert and even localized events like San Francisco's blackout and the Paso Robles earthquake in California inspired U.S. shoppers to stay home and shop online, according to the latest installment of Keynote Systems' survey of online holiday shopping.

Other surveys have indicated strong online sales this year. ComScore Networks said last week that online retail sales, minus auction purchases and travel spending, reached $2.1 billion in the second week of December. That marked a 28 percent increase over the same period last year.

As a result of the online shopping crush, major retailers displayed "inconsistent and slow performance for holiday shoppers attempting to purchase gifts on the Internet," said Keynote.

Between Dec. 15 and Dec. 21, response time for the 11 companies surveyed was nearly 15 seconds, which Keynote called "mediocre," and the success rate for closing an online sale was a "poor" 95 percent.

The results are consistent with Keynote's previous findings this season.

"This has truly been a case of the 'perfect online holiday shopping storm,'" said Keynote analyst Roopak Patel in a release. "A confluence of factors have occurred this shopping season and some of the largest online retailers clearly were not prepared for the shopping onslaught."

In addition to factors related to terror, weather and seismology, Keynote cited an ongoing trend toward greater consumer comfort with shopping online.

Keynote surveyed 10 major brick-and-mortar retailers with online components, along with Internet-only Amazon, which could not immediately be reached for comment.