5 On Your Side

Companies Work To Ease Online Shopping Problems

Posted December 3, 2004 4:16 a.m. EST

— While now commonplace, Internet purchases can still be cumbersome. Some retailers are working to better link online, catalog, and in-store shopping.

Kenton Althiser is a rock climber who goes to his favorite outdoor store for the equipment he needs. He also buys a lot of it online.

"You can find everything you need, a lot of access to other links, product info you can't get in the store," he said.

According to an America Online survey, people who use the Internet to shop plan to spend 53 percent of their holiday budgets on the Web, which has many retailers re-tooling.

"We have three channels to shop, our retail store, online and catalog, and you can purchase through any one of those three and return through any of those three," said Jim Bennett, of REI.

REI also allows customers to order online and pick up at the store.

"Let's say you're not sure of the size, maybe a medium or a large. You order two of them, come to the store and pick it up, try it on right here and the one you don't want, we'll return it right on the spot," Bennett said.

According to computer maker IBM, only 17 percent of online retailers have the technology to do that.

"Retailers evolved their businesses differently, so they had their online business, their in-store business, catalog business and those were separate business units and frequently, there were business challenges associated with competition between those channels," said Joseph Lea, of IBM.

More companies are coming on board.

"We have 1,100 customers and that's growing significantly," Lea said.

Forrester Research did a study of companies that integrated online and in-store shopping. Some of their top picks included Circuit City, JCPenney and Staples.