A Measure of Our Strength

The World Trade Center tragedy happened upon us completely unexpectedly. In my memory only President Kennedy's assassination caused as sudden a shock; in my parents' generation, it was Pearl Harbor. The fabric of our lives, so smooth and predictable before the planes flew into the buildings, was ripped and shredded immediately afterwards.

A measure of our strength is the time it takes us to recover. Not that we will ever get back to the way things were before September 11, that's a certainty. But achieving equanimity and balance are things we can demand of ourselves, and thing we can reasonably expect as a nation.

And if there is a measurable barometer for our recovery, it is commerce. America is, after all, the most successful commercial society on this planet; perhaps the terrorists targeted the Trade Center because it represented commercialism - a commercialism they despise.

The Internet allows us a marvelous sneak peak at the American consumer's resilience in the wake of this tragedy. With the assistance of, an exceptionally useful and well-organized stream of data is put at our disposal., if you're not familiar with it, is in the unique position of gathering data on a vast number of e-tail transactions in twelve product categories. Among other things, tracks who's buying what, where are they buying it from, and how they feel about their purchase experience.



The headlines are fascinating:

* In the seven days prior to the World Trade Center tragedy (9/4 - 9/10), recorded almost $574MM in purchases across the twelve categories they measure.

* As expected, the week immediately following (9/11-9/17) showed a 23% drop in retail activity, down to $443MM.

* But recovery was amazingly rapid: during the week of 9/18-9/24 consumers bought $523MM over the Web, just 9% less than the week before the terrorist attacks.

* And here's the kicker: two weeks after the tragedy (9/25-10/1) showed a 2% increase to $584MM. Now that's a rebound.

While all categories performed relatively well, some were clearly outstanding:

* Sports & Outdoors only dropped 5% the week after the attacks, and surged to a gain of 49% just two weeks afterwards.

* Computer Software dropped 11% the first week, but gained 31% two weeks later.

* And Food & Wine dropped by the biggest margin of all categories (36%) during the first week, but bounced by 25% two weeks after.

Only four categories didn't show growth two weeks after the tragedy, and the percentages weren't all that awful:

* Electronics was 10% lower
* Entertainment dropped by 9%
* Computer Hardware lost 6%
* Home & Garden was 4% lower.

Can we draw some valid conclusions from the figures? I think we can come up with at least a couple:

* Shopping on the Web is a resilient business. Even in the face of a monumentally life-changing event with potentially serious effects on the American economy, consumers continued to show up and shop on the Web. Whether it is because of its convenience relative to leaving the house or for other reasons, the Web held up extremely well.

* This medium is becoming more 'mainstream' each day. The Web has been tarred and tarnished of late, but's numbers prove it's bomb-proof and here to stay.

- Michael Kubin is co-CEO of Evaliant, one of the web's leading sources for online ad data.

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