Online sales keep growing


Holiday shoppers spent an estimated $21.7 billion online over the fourth quarter, increasing sales by 26 percent over the 2005 season, according to a report from the National Retail Federation.

Overall holiday sales for 2006, however, which included sales at brick-and-mortar stores, showed an increase of 4.4 percent, according to the Retail Sales Outlook report, which was presented by the federation's chief economist Rosalind Wells. The poorer showing in holiday sales overall was caused by the slowing of the economy in 2006, a weak housing market and "lackluster" employment growth, according to the report.

There was more good news for Internet retailers as Wells predicted continued double-digit growth in online selling for 2007.

"I can't image a tailing off to any substantial degree," she said. Quarterly growth in online sales during 2006 also ran in the double digits, running to 16 percent in the first quarter. Overall, however, retail growth in 2007 is expected to be moderate, up by 4.8 percent, Wells said, a decline from the 6.3 percent increase in sales in 2006.

Meanwhile, a number of software vendors unveiled products at the federation's show for the retail industry in New York. Microsoft Corp., in addition to unveiling new point-of-sale and retail management systems, also announced a collaboration with business intelligence applications provider Teradata, a division of NCR Corp. On Monday, the vendors announced that they are boosting the interoperability between Teradata's Enterprise Data Warehouse and Microsoft's SQL Server Analysis Services online analytical processing engine.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer mentioned the partnership during a keynote speech Monday. He said the collaboration would enable analysts familiar with Microsoft Excel to easily access the Teradata Enterprise Data Warehouse. The interoperability feature would be available in the first quarter, he said.

During a question-and-answer session after his keynote, Ballmer took a jab at open source. Responding to a question about how Microsoft could compete against free Linux rivals, Ballmer noted that retail customers were very good at doing price comparisons. But, as he explained, "if anyone thinks open-source alternatives are free, then see me after class. Nothing in technology is free. Just learn where to look for the price tag." He said the cost of deploying and implementing Linux was a "big unknown" for customers.

Among other announcements at the conference:

Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc., a vendor of supply chain management applications, announced an order management product for retail customers. The software allows retailers to manage orders through the entire selling cycle over multiple channels. With the application, for instance, retailers can track a product in a store, through a warehouse or in transit, i2 said.

St. Paul, Minn.-based ERP vendor Lawson Software Inc. announced a new integrated business application suite called QuickStep Fashion. This is tailored to manufacturing and distribution companies that need to handle a wide variety of product ranges with high order volumes. QuickStep is aimed for the apparel, footwear, home textiles and accessories industries in particular.