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'A better way to shop'

26 January 2004

It is difficult to give a full account of Christmas sales, with major players such as Amazon still to release their figures. The trend towards online sales increased, with web shoppers apparently feeling more confident about Internet suppliers being able to deliver in time for Christmas. According to British research group IMRG overall online sales soared by 70% compared to last year, totalling £1.32 billion. Jo Tucker, MD of IMRG, said: ‘Retailing changed this Christmas. There will be no going back for the millions of consumers who have now experienced for themselves that the internet provides a better way to shop for many products and services.’

IMRG also said that the online retail market had grown more than 16-fold in the 45 months since it began tracking Internet sales, and predicted that by the end of the decade it will constitute 30% of all shopping revenues. The UK is a relatively mature market for online bookselling, which already plays a much larger part in the US. Due mainly to the success of Amazon, book purchasers have been early converts to online buying, where the bookseller is able to offer browsers a very wide range of stock without incurring the crippling costs of terrestrial bookselling.

The fallout from this and the chains’ increasing focus on central buying of a smaller number of highly-promoted books is that sales forces keep getting smaller. The latest casualty is the two large Random House Inc sales forces. One 70-strong sales force has now been created to replace the two sales teams that previously sold Random House, Knopf, Crown and Random House Information titles in one unit and Bantam, Doubleday, Broadway, Ballantine and adult audio in the other. Anyone who knows how many books these big publishing houses still bring out will feel aghast at the thought of how many titles each sales person will have to handle. Ten jobs have been eliminated and Random House believe they can do a better job with a smaller sales force – a proposition which, to the outsider, always seems somewhat dubious.