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Y2K is no bug to e-tailers

Executives at many retail sites want to use the landmark new year to help stretch the holiday shopping season as far as it will go.

"Party on" seems to be the message many online merchants are sending to customers as the millennium approaches.

Executives at many retail sites want to use the landmark new year to help stretch the holiday shopping season as far as it will go. In the week after Christmas, shoppers have slowed their spending, and share prices for many e-commerce companies have dropped in recent trading.

"The fact that there really are two holidays this year will not be lost on e-tailers," said Forrester Research e-commerce analyst Evie Black Dykema. "Much has been made about how crucial this online shopping season is supposed to be to e-tailing. Many of them may feel pressured to squeeze every single dollar out of the consumer's pocketbook."

The pressure could rise if sales figures continue to stagnate. Goldman Sachs and PC Data Online yesterday released a study indicating that home users spent 25 percent less during the week of Dec. 13-19 than they did the previous week.

However, analysts are predicting that the industry will surpass sales projections. Internet research firm Forrester estimated that retail sales during the holidays would reach $4 billion.

This week, merchants try to bill the millennium as the newest holiday. For instance, customers logging on at Williams-Sonoma.com will find a message that reads: "Toast the new millennium in style. We have everything you need to host the party of the century."

Dean & Deluca customers are offered baskets filled with such extravagant gastronomical treats as fine wine, beluga caviar and foie gras.

Petsmart.com executives apparently believe that for such a special occasion, one should be well dressed--and so should one's pet. The online pet product supplier offers a formal tux for Fido or evening dress and tiara for some customer's favorite feline.

Luxury goods merchant Ashford.com is offering its customers "Millennium Diamonds." Anyone wishing to commemorate the millennium with diamonds can buy one from DeBeers' collection for about $6,000.

Music site CDNow is giving away an Oldsmobile as part of its millennium 2000 contest.

Forrester's Dykema said that since retailers long ago discovered the "Hallmark holidays," or the occasions that people will spend money to celebrate, they are constantly on the lookout to help create new ones.

"Some consumers, the ones who missed buying a Christmas gift, are attracted to an additional holiday because it gives them a chance to redeem themselves," Dykema said.

The millennium is used to pitch a wide variety of products, but many Web sites appear to favor it to sell high-ticket items.

"The idea with the millennium is wild parties, absolutely decadent celebration," said Jennifer Wellott, a corporate buyer for home furnishings supplier Deandeluca.com. "But a lot of people are staying home this year and we say if you stay home, do it with style."

Wellott said that making the word "millennium" part of a sales promotion can pay dividends. "Our studies have shown customers will be using the key word 'millennium' in their searches," she said.

Helping people celebrate is not the only way for e-tailers to cash in on the millennium. The start of a new year is also a time for self reflection.

Barnesandnoble.com is offering scores of self-help books ranging from guides on how to control weight to sprucing up a couple's sex life to kicking bad habits.

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