'Twas the season for e-commerce. A new study says online holiday sales increased 300 percent over the same period last year, with sales projected to exceed $10 billion this season.

Consumers apparently are losing their fear of the new and unknown. Traditional retailers have taken notice of the sharp increase of orders placed over Internet, as well as the increasingly expensive purchases. Holiday orders placed in 1998 averaged about $55.50, compared to $60 in 1999.

As David Pecaut, senior vice president of The Boston Consulting Group, puts it, "If last year was the awakening, this year was the confirmation that online retail is here to stay."

True enough, but the ongoing challenge for e-retailers is to refine processes so that gift buyers don't end up empty-handed on birthdays and other holidays. The challenge for consumers is to locate cyber-retailers that emphasize good customer service. Presumably, however, the new competition will bolster service in all sectors of commerce.