The Web has been one of the fastest growing sales channels for multi-channel retailers and thus is often regarded with some trepidation and less esteem than traditional retail channels. However, the Web might be starting to show signs of maturity.

Meanwhile, according to recent reports from Forrester Research, online sales will continue to grow, but not at the breakneck speeds of the past. "In 2005, we expect online sales to grow by 21 percent over 2004, to US$175.3 billion, impressive growth, but nowhere near the 96 percent [compound annual growth rate] of the prior six years," Forrester analyst Carrie Johnson said in "Trends 2005: Online Retail Slower Growth and Fierce Competition Drive Carefully Chosen Innovations."

As a result, retailers today are faced with increasingly strong competition and often very fickle shoppers.

Now that the Internet has been established as a viable channel that customers feel comfortable using, the stakes have gone up. The Internet is increasingly being held to the same standards in terms of returns and growth as traditional sales channels, and online shoppers have come to expect a certain level of service from Web retailers. Consumers aren't as forgiving as they once were. If a customers' online shopping cart suddenly crashes as they attempt to purchase the latest Grisham novel from Amazon, they might try a second time; if it breaks again, they're heading straight for Barnes and Noble's site.

To minimize abandoned shopping carts and lost sales revenues, retailers need to work to ensure a positive and successful online customer experience for all of their shoppers, all of the time, while at the same time finding ways to better manage this overall process -- just as retailers have done and continue to do for traditional, offline channels.

Whether a customer is shopping online or offline, it's important to remember that all customers have equal buying power. Yet, the typical online conversion rate ranges from a minuscule 1.5 to a mere 5 percent.

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