Just what are consumers buying online? Computers, of course. Techno-gadgetry/software is the Web's largest category. But softer goods are also selling. AOL, for instance, claims brisk sales of food, books and flowers. One big lesson learned at the AOL mall is that most sales occur between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., hours when brick-and-mortar stores are closed. Another lesson: Consumers are motivated to buy with limited-time, special price offers (discounts that expire in 24 hours, for example).
The importance of this embrace of e-commerce may be exaggerated, however. By most accounts, e-commerce amounts to less than $3 billion per year, a tiny fraction of the overall retail market. But e-commerce's share is climbing fast, and for many retailers, the Web is becoming the smartest, cheapest storefront around.
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