Online shopping boost expected

E-commerce Web sites could see a traffic boost this holiday season as shoppers browse online rather than at the malls given the reluctance to travel and personally deliver gifts following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some observers said.

"You're going to have people who had to cancel travel reservations to see their relatives, but instead they're going to be ordering [gifts] online," said analyst Christopher Kelley, of Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "I think you're going to have people calling [relatives] and giving them a heads-up, about packages that will arrive," Kelley said.

In addition to the nation's newfound reluctance to travel, online shopping also may benefit from Internet-based charitable efforts pertaining to the terrorist attacks, Kelley said. Charities, he said, "made it so easy to contribute online, I bet there were a lot of people who never made purchases online who were moved enough to contribute on the Web." In doing so, they realized they would not have their credit card numbers stolen or receive spam as a result of online contributions, Kelley said.

"They finally got over those hurdles that kept them from buying online in the past and they'll continue to buy in the holiday season," Kelley said.

At, the retail giant's online vehicle, a company spokeswoman cited reports pertaining to the population's reluctance to fly. "Based on those reports, it appears travel will be down this holiday season," said spokeswoman Cynthia Lin, in Brisbane, California.

Regardless of whether or not people travel, they will not be able to carry as much onto planes, thus making shipping gifts a more viable option, Lin said. recently added access to gift registries started at the company's brick-and-mortar stores. A streamlined checkout process also has been added, Lin said.

Discount merchandise vendor Costco already is seeing strong online sales, a company executive said.

"Gift sales are off to a very strong start," indicating either that people will not be traveling, or that the company is offering the right items, said Doug Schutt, senior vice president of Costco's e-commerce business centers, in Issaquah, Washington.

Costco recently added an order status checking feature and the ability to send messages, such as a birthday wish, to its site.

Eric Bauer, chief financial officer (CFO) at Costa Mesa, California-based, said the nature of his company's business does not change during the holidays. But the combination of the faltering economy and the terrorist attacks appears to have people buying tickets for sporting events or concerts instead of traveling on vacation, Bauer said.

"Rather than taking a longer trip or taking a more expensive indulgence, even if the economy's in a tight spot, I can allow myself to go to a nice Christmas show," Bauer said.

Forrester is projecting that U.S. consumers will spend US$11 billion online this holiday season, a 10 percent increase over last year.

Research firm Gartner, meanwhile, predicts worldwide online holiday sales of $25.3 billion, a 39 percent increase from last year. But e-tailer, in a financial release, said it expects net sales for the fourth quarter to be flat or increase as much as 10 percent over last year.

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