Decking the Halls

While browsing my local pets superstore looking for — of all things — a costume for my golden retriever, I found myself picking my way through aisles strewn with half-emptied boxes of merchandise for the upcoming holiday season. While I was unable to score a doggie kerchief in a spook-inspired print, I could already choose from a wide variety of canine treats in festive Christmas stockings. [No doggie reindeer antlers, though… I probably would have gone for those.]

Even while the stores in my neighborhood are sprucing up for the holiday shopping season, so too are hundreds — more likely thousands — of online shops. In the last week, Kmart’s bluelight.com, Walmart.com and MSN eShop join the �freshly-scrubbed club� of e-tailers. But are the changes anything but skin deep?

The ’99 holiday shopping season suffered a long list of problems that created nightmare-before-Christmas consumer issues: from sites that simply buckled under the pressure of consumer demand, to out-of-stock products, to missed delivery dates.

The most compelling issues, however, are still the basic stuff of usability and customer experience. Can customers find the products that they’re searching for? Can customers successfully place an order for those products? Can customers successfully complete a purchase online? And, if they succeed once, was the experience positive enough that they’d be willing to try it again?

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