OLD Media Moves

New York Times overplays slowing of online retailing

June 19, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

Slate.com media columnist Jack Shafer criticizes a New York Times article that tried to make the point that growth in online retailing was slowing. Shafer wants to know why this was a story.

Online retailingHe wrote, “The piece provides additional evidence to account for online’s decline. Dell now sells computers at Wal-Mart, it reports. Gone unmentioned is the fact that Dell sold PCs at Best Buy, Costco, and Sam’s Club as recently as 1994, according to this Times article from one year ago. Another anecdote: Expedia.com has ‘almost tripled’ its number of ticketing kiosks in hotels and other touristy spots. It could be a terrific supporting statistic if the story included the base number of kiosks that have been almost tripled, which it doesn’t. The most bogus anecdote claims that ‘Borders … recently revamped its Web site to allow users to reserve books online and pick them up in the store.’ There’s nothing ‘recent’ about that service. Borders spokeswoman Anne Roman says via e-mail that the book chain has given customers the option to reserve books online and retrieve them in stores since November 2002.

“One hallmark of a bogus trend story is the ‘to be sure’ passage that undercuts the story’s entire thesis. This piece has two. In the fourth paragraph, the Times reports that Internet sales are projected to top $116 billion this year, ‘making it harder to maintain the same high growth rates.’ In other words, Web retailing is totally huge, it’s still growing by leaps and bounds, but the bigger a fast-growing thing becomes—online sales, giant squid, or an algae bloom—the harder time the thing has sustaining 25 percent annual growth. If no industry can sustain 25 percent annual growth forever, why is it Page One news that the very healthy business of online retailing can’t either?”

Read more here.

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