Will cyber-Santa turn up for work this year?

Australia's e-tailers have already been advised to start testing fulfilment systems for the next Christmas rush, but analyst Tom Velevski wonders just how keen the shopping masses will be to jump online in 2000.

Velevski, the director of e-commerce analyst group Detente Global, said that fears relating to security and privacy, together with Australia's poor perception of local e-tailers' ability to satisfactorily fulfil orders, will see Australians remaining reluctant to purchase online in the lead-up to Christmas 2000.

Velevski's lack of confidence in Australia's willingness to purchase online follows a warning issued today by web performance testing company Mercury Interactive. Mercury advised Australian e-tailers to start preparations four months in advance for "immense traffic" during the lead-up to Christmas.

Mercury predicts that more than 2.5 million Australians - 12.5 per cent of the nation's population - will log on to the web to do Christmas shopping this year, more than quadruple the figure of 600,000 recorded for 1999 by internet analyst firm www.consult.

Accordingly, Mercury urged e-tailers to visit its online stress-testing facility (http://www.testchristmas.com) to verify site reliability, scalability, security and response time.

This advice would seem appropriate, considering that local industry reports such as the one released in February by the Boston Consulting Group showed that more than one-fifth of Christmas gifts ordered by Australians via the internet in 1999 were delivered either late or not at all.

However, according to Velevski, only 3 per cent of Australian internet users claim to feel "entirely safe" submitting credit card details over the web.

Almost two-thirds of Australian surfers admit to feeling some degree of anxiety about submitting any personal data over the internet, he said.

More than half the 6.5 million Australians connected to the internet have never once shopped or made a purchase on the internet, Velevski said. He was citing figures released this year by his former employer, internet research firm Jupiter Communications.

Velevski said a more likely figure for Australia's second attempt at an "e-Christmas" would be closer to the one million mark.

"It (e-tail traffic) is being spruiked up a little bit," he said. "It's a major factor that people still feel unsafe."He believes that Christmas 2000 will still not see enough Australians buying online to cause any significant e-procurement scalability problems. "We don't have the volume for things to really go skew-whiff."

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