Bringing the mall home for holidays

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As the internet goes into its fifth major holiday season, the nation's biggest online players are posturing to become the online equivalents of the malls of America., Yahoo!, AOL Time Warner's America Online, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and even auction site eBay are taking marketing steps to become the "place" for consumers to embark on their online shopping trips.

Though the online powerhouses started from different points, "they're looking more and more like competitors," said Lisa Strand, Nielsen/NetRatings' managing director-chief analyst.. Just two years ago,'s competition was viewed as Barnes & Noble's online operation, she said.

NetRatings this month will begin releasing data reports on a new category dubbed "online shopping destinations." Data will separate the number of visitors to the sites for shopping purposes from those using other functions.

This year, for the first time, AOL is pushing a 100% satisfaction guarantee for shoppers using its retail area. In a tactic similar to those used by credit card companies, AOL says it will intervene on behalf of customers who have complaints about merchants. The guarantee, featured on AOL, is also being promoted in TV spots from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Gotham, New York.

For Web sites, shopping can provide increased revenue from referrals. That's important as sites such as Yahoo! look beyond the slumping ad market for revenue. It also can be a matter of survival on the post-bust Internet. Despite the recession, online shopping continues with a robust growth rate, though not at the staggering rates of the Internet's early years.

John Costello, Yahoo!'s chief global marketing officer, said one of his top priorities is to strengthen Yahoo!'s "breadth and depth" of consumer offerings. Yahoo! reported a 75% jump in post-Thanksgiving shopping sales vs. last year.

Yahoo! broke a national TV spot featuring a portly Superman. Unable to catch purse-snatchers, he buys purses from Yahoo!'s shopping sites to offer victims. Havas Advertising's Black Rocket, San Francisco, is the agency.

Microsoft Corp.'s MSN eShop reported a 150% increase in shopper visits the week of Nov. 19 vs. the same week last year, and a 188% increase in shoppers in October compared with the same month in 2000.

Auction site eBay is making a push as a holiday shopping destination. EBay drew 56.9 million visits Thanksgiving week, more than twice the traffic of top e-tailer, according to NetRatings., now handled by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., has dropped TV advertising, instead focusing on its goal of showing Wall Street a profit. Amazon has relied on a catalog delivered with Sunday newspapers as well as promotions via a deal with NBC offering products mentioned in programming.

A smaller player, Terra Lycos' Lycos, broke a holiday radio campaign in 10 cities to promote its shopping area as an alternative to crowded traditional malls. Interpublic's Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, is the agency.

Comparison shopping and ratings sites such as and CNET Networks' mySimon must stake out positions as the Web's biggest players move to consolidate the shopping space.

BizRate President-CEO Chuck Davis contends the Web's future lies with sites that use the Net's unique shopping capabilities, such as the ability to comparison shop. "In the end, the mall concept will not work," he said. "What will work is search."

However, shoppers are flocking to online malls, not to BizRate. NetRatings said the number of unique visitors who went to BizRate for the week ended Nov. 25 fell 32% from one year ago.

Contributing: Tobi Elkin

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