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Web Traffic Fell Slightly When Power Failed, But Damage Was Minimal

The amount of time people spent on the Web from their offices and homes fell 5% and 4%, respectively, reflecting the inability of consumers to access the Internet, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
A small but noticeable drop-off in Web traffic occurred when the power went out in much of the Northeast on Aug. 14, but damage to online businesses and the economy as a whole was minimal. "Though Internet purchases are up dramatically in the past four or five years, they're still a relatively small part of the economy," says James Forcier, managing director at the Bay Analytics, an economic strategy consulting firm.

The amount of time people spent on the Web from their offices and homes fell 5% and 4%, respectively, for the week ended Aug. 17, reflecting the inability of consumers to access the Internet, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. The blackout hit last Thursday, with power restored to most areas by the weekend. Except for weeks containing a holiday, Web surfing in the United States rarely fluctuates by more than a percentage point or two, a NetRatings spokesman says. NetRatings analysts believe the falloff of online traffic would have been higher if not for a large number of people in unaffected areas going to Web news site to learn more about the power outage, the spokesman says.

Online retailers such as Wal-Mart.com reported fewer sales that Thursday and Friday, but returned to normal levels by Saturday. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman declined to provide specific figures on lost sales.

Forcier says some Internet sales were probably permanently lost, but many consumers likely did their online shopping over the weekend when power was restored, minimizing the economic damage to the online retailer.