An Amazon Christmas?

Someday, when the entire online world is wired with high-speed connections, perhaps the home page at Amazon.com will make us really feel the holiday shopping spirit online. Maybe the site will play Christmas carols — customized for each visitor of course, based on past purchases and online behavior.

In the meantime, Amazon is doing what it can to become part of the atmosphere that makes the last six weeks on the calendar different from the rest of the retail shopping year.

Unfortunately for Amazon — and all of e-commerce — those efforts are falling short. In fact, all they show is exactly how limited e-tailers are in their ability to duplicate the lights, songs, and shopping ambience of the holidays.

Big Happy Family

For its part, Amazon has tried to convey the community spirit of the holidays on its site. Ever feel like the only person shopping on the Web? Amazon has the answer in its “Delight-O-Meter” — an absolutely horribly named and basically pointless feature that shows how many units have been sold worldwide since November 2nd.

With some nine million units sold before Thanksgiving, the feature is designed to help convince shoppers they are not alone, that they are part of a vast legion of shoppers clicking away across the globe.

Is it a bad thing to shop alone, at your own pace, without worrying about beating the lady with an overflowing shopping cart to the checkout? Absolutely not. However, if there is one time when people want to see crowds, it’s during these last weeks of the year. If nothing else, the crowds reassure shoppers that they are part of something larger, that the holidays do serve as something of a common thread among us all.

Alas, a digital counter is a cold substitute for a chance to sit on the lap of the mall Santa.

Wish Book Lite

Amazon has also made a few decorative touches to its home page, but its biggest push to capture some of the old holiday magic comes in the mail, in the form of the new Amazon catalog.

Once again, the e-tailer is trying to tap something primal in the shopping brain, the old fashioned use of catalogs, notably the Sears Wish Book, as a way to pick out holiday gifts. But there is a disconnect.

The Sears book was a starting point. You’d see something you might like in the catalog, then head to the store and get a first-hand view. View the TV picture up close, fiddle with the knobs on the stereo, check the material on that bathrobe for Mom. Even if you didn’t do all those things, the Sears catalog held the possibility.

Not so with Amazon. The two-dimensional pictures can only be confirmed against more two-dimensional images on a computer screen. There is no movement toward the hard, solid object that will sit under the tree on Christmas morning. And without that, the catalog doesn’t engage the imagination in the same way.

Dashing Through the Snow

Amazon deserves some credit for making an effort. It could just as easily have laid its holiday foundation on the solid ground that e-commerce maintains, the ease-of-use, the all-hours shopping, the lack of crowded parking lots and long lines.

Instead, Amazon seems to recognize that there is an ethereal quality to holiday shopping, a certain something that is not easy to pin down. A feeling that only shopping in person can duplicate. A feeling that no amount of digital trickery can evoke.

Hopefully, Amazon and others will not stop trying. Hopefully, technology will enable shoppers to get as immersed in the browsing and buying online as they do now at brick-and-mortar shops. And then someday, when the TV is our Internet gateway and our connections can support video and sound, the holiday spirit will infect us both online and off.

Until then, though, the online holiday experience is missing something. Something that most people still want.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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