Who Won? Who Lost? Who Cares?

Remember December's parade of identical e-commerce stories? We saw Grinch-like online retailers robbing kiddies of toys and journos making grandiose predictions about who'd survive the season. You'd think once the holidays ended, the media would find something new to say or tactfully change the subject, like the guests did when Aunt Trudy noticed Junior's tongue ring at Christmas dinner. No such luck.

Business Week's Heather Green looked at surveys, polls and ratings data for an admittedly "broad view" of this season's winners and losers. Media Matrix and Nielsen/NetRatings came up with "pretty much the same list" of top-trafficked sites for the week ended Dec. 12, with the usual suspects at the top: Amazon, eBay, eToys. Green thinks traffic rankings are "only limited indicators," and we agree. She also looked at surveys of online merchants (they're relatively happy) and, unlike many journalists, gave Toysrus.com a break. "While the company has had problems," Green wrote, "its strong showing demonstrates the importance of brand."

Time joined the litany of sob stories devoted to "tears under the tree" from kids deprived of some of their material bounty on Christmas morning. Sears received the most melodramatic scolding, and e-commerce whipping boy Toysrus.com took its usual licking. Amazon and FAO Schwartz were painted as e-commerce superheroes, swooping in to save the day. Oddly, Sears is redeemed in the article's last sentence, morphing from Scrooge to a purveyor of "friction-free Web shopping," all because it sent the article's disgruntled Mom her delayed order for free. skipped the crying kids and looked at the bottom line. Because of "some sites' lackluster execution," said Penelope Patsuris, e-commerce stocks are down.

Beyond that, she and some analysts predict funding through IPOs will get harder for e-commerce companies, patent litigation may be an obstacle, an Internet sales tax could wreak havoc if approved, and "bankers and venture capitalists alike will tighten their purse strings considerably." Yes, it's because of the low marks consumers gave e-commerce this Christmas for things like late toy deliveries. Also, while e-commerce sites pulled in more money than expected this season, they also spent a lot of it on employee overtime and shipping upgrades.

If we must be subjected to a media fridge full of holiday leftovers, more outlets should follow Forbes' example and use December's lessons to illuminate the coming year. Without that type of analysis, Christmas wrap-ups can be as stale as last year's fruitcake ... and holiday analogies from weary journalists.

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