E-Shopping Blues

Kenny Rogers 2004
For Internet retailers, the holiday shopping season is all but over and in a survey out today, 29% of "e-tailers" said sales were better than expected, 16% said they were lower, and more than half said sales were right on target.

But as for e-service, CBS News' Anthony Mason reports, a lot of customers are saying "e-gad!"

Eileen Haas-Linde is a veteran Internet shopper. The Chicago area mother has bought her daughters bunk beds online, the family car online, she even bought her husband a snowblower online. But she calls her trip to an internet toy store this Christmas "a nightmare."

It took four days, she says, to get onto the Toys'R'Us Website, two hours to place an order, and then she couldn't get confirmation.

"So I'm thinking, 'Okay, what happened? Did this order evaporate? Was it shipped? Am i going to get a bill?' No one knows," she recalled.

The companies have spent a fortune on ads this Christmas, and it's worked. Toys'R'Us has more than tripled its online traffic. But president Mike Goldstein has admitted they've been overwhelmed.

"We've had lots of problems in terms of handling customer flow," Goldstein explains. "Our systems weren't developed to handle the number of people who want to be on the sites."

Toys'R'Us is not alone. A survey by Anderson Consulting this Christmas found that one in four attempts to buy online failed to go through. The Web sites were either blocked, stalled, or had crashed.

In San Diego, Red has a small army of service reps just to keep its customers happy.

"These are virtual storefronts, but your customers aren't virtual customers, they're real people," explains Internet analyst Sara Zeilstra, who says many have been turned off by online shopping. "While a lot of people have said 'Wow, online shopping, this is the best thing that ever could have happened,' an equal number, if not more, are saying 'I'd much rather go to the store.'"

Toys'R'Us sent Eileen Haas-Linde an e-mail telling her to call if her gifts hadn't arrived by Christmas Eve. "And I thought, 'What am I going to do on December 24th?'" she recalls. "'Is Santa gonna come in a helicopter and drop it down my chimney?' It's a little late."

Too late for Toys'R'Us to make the sale, that is. Eileen gave up waiting for the delivery truck and went to the store. "Sometimes Internet shopping is not the best thing," she says. And she ought to know.