CyberChristmas: The Results

Close readers of this column will recall that earlier this month (“Great Expectations“) Chatterbox fretted that pre-Christmas hype surrounding gift-buying on the Intenet would cause business journalists to pen post-Yuletide “Online Christmas a Bust” stories. Chatterbox didn’t want that to happen because, as a regular contributor to Slate, he has a financial interest in people buying stuff on the Web. So Chatterbox set about lowering expectations by predicting that online shopping this holiday season would top $150,000 in sales. Well, congratulations to Jeff Bezos of and his fellow merchants in cyberspace for their stunning success! According to a survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group for, a trade group for online retailers–or, rather, according to a press release Chatterbox has received describing the survey (the results are not yet posted on’s website)–online holiday sales this year were triple what they were last year. If Chatterbox’s arithmetic is right, that puts them at more than $3 billion! The increase comes mainly from more purchases, but there’s also some evidence that the items bought online are getting pricier. The survey, conducted between Nov. 23 and Dec. 20, says the price of the average online gift order this year was $55, a 6-percent increase over the average online gift order placed during the same time period in 1997.

Presumably the feared naysaying pieces on holiday Internet shopping won’t be appearing because, if the survey is to be believed, online sales matched the most-daring predictions offered up in the hypestories. But Chatterbox notes that the New York Times still can’t resist a snotty dig in today’s lead story on Christmas shopping: “[W]hile shopping on the Web remains a tiny fraction of the estimated $174 billion in retail sales for the holiday season, that did not stop Internet merchants from gloating.” Hmm. That sounds like sour grapes from a newspaper that still depends heavily on advertising from offline retailers.

Timothy Noah