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Economy Slows Online Shopping - 2001-08-06

A new report suggests that the softening economy in the United States may be affecting online commerce.

James McQuivey, a research director at Forrester Research said, "Surprisingly, in the month of June, we saw online commerce take a hit. It went from $3.9 billion in the month of May to $3.2 billion in the month of June. Really, an unprecedented drop."

Forrester Research is a firm which has been tracking e-commerce each month, for the past 18 months. Mr. McQuivey says that while a decline in the American economy may be one reason for the drop in electronic commerce, the lower numbers also may be strictly seasonal in nature.

"We don't know how much of a reason, how much of an influence this reason has that it is simply summer vacation," he says. "People take off in the summer. They spend a little less time indoors and a little more time outdoors. That can have an effect. We've never seen it before in the Internet because the Internet tends to grow so dramatically. But, this year, with the softening economy, we are seeing some seaonality and we are seeing the softening economy continue to drop in the month of June."

Dan Noble: "Is it also possible that online shoppers are growing disenchanted?"

James McQuivey: "I can say, really without question, that the Internet has not lost its luster. People still like to shop online. Every survey we do, where we ask people if they like it, they say that they absolutely love it. It's mostly the convenience that they get from the Internet."

The Forrester researcher says that he expects that online shopping will pick up in the next few weeks as schools across the United States prepare to re-open for the new academic year. Parents will be spending money on new clothing and high-tech equipment.

Mr. McQuivey said, "It's our estimation right now that unless the economy worldwide goes a lot further down, we think that the back-to-school sales kick that usually occurs online will help and bring us back a little bit. Will we be back to the sort of frenzy that we were seeing in the last months of the year 2000? Probably never again, but I think we are going to come back out by the end of the summer."

Forrester Research will continue to monitor the ups and downs of commerce conducted on the Internet.

This week, AT&T Labs in Florham Park, New Jersey, announced the release of what it calls the most human-sounding computer speech system in the world. The text-to-speech Natural Voices software turns written words into a close-to-natural verbal message. Users can even choose between a male or female voice. Several different languages are available. When I visited the web site, I typed in a line, viewed the words on my computer screen and had them voiced. Here is what came out:

I'm Dan Noble and you're listening to the Computer Digest segment on VOA's News Now

That's not me. But, the quality of this synthesized voice sounds good. The AT&T Natural Voices software includes a library of voices, and the ability to custom develop a voice. The system offers the possibility of re-creating voices of actual people both living and dead. It could literally put words in someone's mouth.

AT&T hopes that its new product will appeal to businesses that operate call centers and companies that manufacturer automated voice devices. Samples of how it operates can be found at