- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Apple Computer Inc.’s IPods and Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 game system are generating the most product searches online this holiday season, but Barbie remains strong in the traditional toy category, according to search engine companies and Internet analysts.

There were more than 6.6 million IPod-related searches last month, according to ComScore Networks, an Internet audience research firm based in Reston. Xbox 360 was second with 5 million searches, followed by Harry Potter-related queries at 4.8 million.

“I would expect that whatever are the hot items off-line would be the same online,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, the online division of the National Retail Federation in Washington. “I’d be surprised if they were different because the online audience look pretty much like the offline audience.”

ComScore’s findings are supported by statistics from leading search engines.

Barbie led America Online’s toy searches from Nov. 12 through Dec. 9, followed by American Girl and Bratz dolls. Xbox 360 led the gadget category during that time followed by IPods and cell phones, according to AOL Search.

Xbox 360 and IPods also held the top two spots in product searches on Yahoo Shopping for the week ending Dec. 3, followed by Sony’s PlayStation Portable, and IPod nano. Xbox and PlayStation also led the toy search category, which included Star Wars, Harry Potter and Hello Kitty.

Various electronic products, including numerous Xbox 360 games, were among the most popular searches on MSN Shopping for the past two weeks, according to an MSN spokes-man.

Search engine leader Google Inc.’s top 15 gaining queries for the week ending Dec. 5 included the terms “Hanukkah” and “Kwanzaa,” but no specific holiday gifts or toys.

JupiterResearch estimates that consumers will spend $26 billion on nontravel retail goods at Internet sites in November and December — an 18 percent growth over the same period last year.

“It’s a vigorous online season,” said Patti Freeman Evans, a Jupiter retail analyst in New York, adding that although consumer electronics dominate Internet search terms, books, music, toys and gift certificates remain popular gifts to buy online.

“We see a lot of purchasing of higher-end items early in the season,” Mrs. Freeman Evans said. “In that last week, we see more books and gift certificates. People don’t want to think about which home theater system to buy at the last minute.”

Consumers might not buy the gifts they search for online, but at least they’re getting some instantaneous feedback, said Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.

“Why do we like search engines? It’s one of the few things in information technology where you can just sit there and type anything you want, and at least you get an answer back,” Mr. Ballmer said during a speech last week in D.C.

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