- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Consumers are expected to dish out nearly $17 billion in online purchases this holiday season, taking advantage of online convenience, low-cost shipping options and last-minute deals.

Online retailers can expect their best year yet, with a 20 percent increase in November and December sales from last year, according to Jupiter Research’s latest holiday forecast.

The Internet research firm says this season’s growth in sales will come from new shoppers. About 63.6 million shoppers are expected to shop online this holiday season — compared with 53.7 million last year. The No.1 reason consumers will shop online this year is to save time by not going to the store.

Jupiter, which has been tracking online holiday sales since 1995, forecasted a 17 percent increase in holiday sales for 2002 compared with 2001. It was slightly below the actual 18 percent increase for that year.

While traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers are urging consumers to shop early this year, online retailers are giving those last-minute shoppers some room to procrastinate.

More retailers this year are guaranteeing that orders will be delivered two days before Christmas, according to Jupiter.About 22 percent will push the order cut-off date to Dec. 23 compared with 17 percent of retailers last year. About 29 percent of retailers cutoff order dates on Dec. 20 in 2002, while 16 percent plan to do the same this holiday season.

“Retailers have pushed back the cutoff dates … to gain incremental sales,” said Patti Freeman Evans, a Jupiter analyst.

Circuit City recommends shoppers order by Dec. 17 for free standard ground delivery but give until Dec. 23 for next-day air delivery. The consumer electronics chain also allows shoppers to order online and pick up the merchandise at one of its stores up until 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

“It’s wonderful for procrastinators,” said Steve Mullen, a Circuit City spokesman.

Jupiter said holiday online sales will make up about 32 percent of overall online sales this year. That’s a slight drop from 2002 when holiday sales made up 34 percent of total online sales. Ms. Evans said more people are purchasing online throughout the year, so the overall adoption of online shopping is increasing and sales are being spread out over the year.


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