- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

More shoppers are mouse-clicking on Web sites instead of leaving their homes this holiday season as they search for deals and eliminate the hassles of in-store shopping.
As time runs out before Christmas Day, this week is critical for online merchants to get products out the door and for last-minute consumers to get gifts under the tree.
Non-travel online sales rose 23 percent to $7.13 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 13, compared with the same period last year, said comScore Networks Inc., a Reston-based Web research company.
"[This season has] been absolutely fantastic for online commerce," said comScore Vice President Michelle David Adams.
Ms. Adams said that online gift buying is becoming more "mainstream."
Historically the weekend before Christmas is the busiest at bricks-and-mortar retailers. But for online shops last week was the most active as shoppers scurried to meet delivery deadlines and to take advantage of deals. More than $1.7 billion was spent online for non-travel goods and services in this period up 36 percent from the same week last year, according to comScore.
Overall, online holiday sales in November and December are expected to grow to $13.1 billion up 17 percent from $11.2 billion in 2001, according to Jupiter Research, an Internet research firm.
The National Retail Federation, an industry association, is expecting $209 billion in total sales for November and December 4 percent above last year's.
Online deals, such as free shipping, discounts and free gifts, have enticed shoppers to browse in cyberspace rather than crowded store aisles.
"There's a lot of sensitivity to deals and pricing, given the nature of the economy," Ms. Adams said.
In a recent BizRate.com survey, 54 percent of online shoppers said they are more focused on finding deals this season.
Why are they searching for deals? About 74 percent of them have tighter budgets, said Chuck Davis, president and chief executive of BizRate.com, a comparison shopping site.
"Wallets have to be stretched further," Mr. Davis said.
Retailers that have both an online presence and bricks-and-mortar locations such as Circuit City, Best Buy, Borders, Books & Music and Office Depot are also offering Web shoppers the option of picking up merchandise at a local store.
Ms. Adams said that the convenience of researching a product online, comparison shopping and being able to pick up the purchase without hassle is drawing in customers.
Though time is running out, shipping deals that guarantee Christmas delivery are still available.
Circuit City has no delivery charges on orders made up to 1 p.m. today. Old Navy is guaranteeing Dec. 24 delivery at no charge on purchases of at least $85 made by noon on Friday.
Gap has the same deadline and is offering free shipping on purchases of $100 or more.
For other popular Web-based retailers, the shipping deals are virtually gone, and procrastinating consumers can expect to pay hefty charges to get merchandise delivered in time for Christmas.
Amazon.com was offering a free-shipping advantage to early-bird shoppers until last week. Today is the last day to place an order that "usually ships in 24 hours" with standard shipping fees, ranging from $1.99 to $8.99, plus per-item costs.
The company is also allowing a shipping offer for last-minute orders placed on Dec. 22. But shoppers will have to tack on an additional $5 to the one-day shipping costs, which could range from $8.99 to $16.99, plus per-item costs.
"People who waited this late are going to have to pay a premium for shipping," said Nevin Cohen, senior analyst for eMarketer, which analyzes data from research firms. "At this point they're shopping for convenience, not for savings."

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