September 11 forced Americans to reconsider their relationship to the Web. Suddenly, even round-the-clock commercial-free news wasn’t enough; news websites—both domestic and foreign—reported attracting unprecedented large audiences. The Web fulfilled its promise of news on demand, of supplying a public thirsty for facts with a virtually never-ending stream.
Before the Gulf War CNN was lucky to reach one percent of viewers — a 1 rating. During the war CNN’s coverage exploded by a factor of 10, forever altering the network’s presence in America and the world. If Yankee Stadium is the house that Ruth built, then it could be said that CNN is the network that Saddam built.
September 11 is only six weeks behind us so clearly many of its effects on our country have yet to gel. But it’s becoming obvious even at this early date that Americans are retreating into their cocoons. Among other retailers, Agent Orange (Home Depot) is thriving as the consumer’s attention turns to fixing up the house, presumably to enable more comfortable couch potato-ing.
The strong pull of safety, the avoidance of a world that has suddenly become jagged and germy, is at odds with the President’s call for normalcy. Especially for making normal purchases, for good old-fashioned red-blooded all-American shopping. So what’s a consumer to do? Turn to the Web, that’s what. Sitting indoors in front of a computer screen keeps the consumer safe and cozy while still only a few keystrokes away from that camera, or book, or sweater or — literally — whatever.
For the week of 10/16-10/22, Bizrate (scorekeeper of Web retail purchases) reports that compared to the week of September 11, overall sales are up 23%. Comparing that to the same week a year ago, sales are up 34%. Where else in this moth-eaten economy can you find numbers like this? Answer: nowhere.
The Home & Garden (+70%) category has seen the greatest increases over the same week in 2000—not coincidentally, given the consumer’s interest in fixing up the old rat hole. And computer hardware and electronics have done almost as well.
Online retailers are waking up to the fact that suddenly their storefront is shifting to the computer screen, and consequently they are placing their ads there in increasing numbers. Don’t kid yourself; the online ad industry is still very sickly. But suddenly there are real signs of life.
Evaliant (my company) keeps a running tab of online ad expenditures by category. Once again, not surprisingly, the top ad spenders are computer retailers, home and garden retailers, and game, hobby, and sports equipment retailers. See a pattern here?
So the fortunes of the next decade are being formed today. As promised so long ago, the online pond is very worthwhile fishing in.
As Dylan once said, “Time will tell just who has led and who was left behind.”
- Michael Kubin is co-CEO of Evaliant, one of the web's leading sources for online ad data.