Online sales skyrocketed to $12.2bn for the holiday 2000 season figures doubling in November and December from last year according to The NPD Group.

Apparel ranked third in category sales, behind travel reservations and computer hardware, at $1.144bn, 10 per cent of total revenues for the season. NPD also ranked the top 20 sites at which consumers spent the most the money, with good representation from apparel etailers: JCPenney (No 4); Wal-Mart (No 7); LandsEnd.com (No 12); Victoria's Secret (No 15); and L.L. Bean (No 19).

But while online sales reached an all-time high this year, etailers are still missing the customer service mark. Holiday shoppers reported dissatisfaction and diminishing patience with buying apparel over the Internet, according to eHoliday 2000 Apparel Report Card by Accenture and Vividence.

The study measured site usability, customer expectation and satisfaction, and discovered that improvements were in three key areas: overall shopping experience, purchasing process and customer support.

More important, research showed that three in 10 online shoppers had a negative shopping experience on a specific website last year, and 72 per cent of those shoppers are unlikely to return to that site. "Consumers expect the same experience whether shopping online or off-line," said Angela Selden, managing partner of Accenture Retail. "With the functional improvements that retailers achieved in 2000, customer service now becomes the lynch-pin for the year ahead."

  • Lack of confidence in return policies.
  • Frustration in digging for sales information.
  • Difficulty completing gift certificate transactions.
  • Questionable search and display capabilities.