Slow Start to Holiday E-Shopping

The latest snapshot of holiday e-commerce sales reveals that although in full swing this time last year, the online holiday shopping season has yet to begin. But analysts continue to be optimistic, expecting 35 million online holiday buyers - up from 20 million last season.

The proportion of people visiting shopping sites has climbed from 73 percent in December to 75 percent in August. Media Metrix expects this trend to continue with an increasing percentage of the online population shopping online this season.

But so far, the holidays haven't boosted retail site traffic, according to Nielsen NetRatings (NTRT) . The company did not track any growth in visits to shopping sites for the week ending Nov. 5 over the prior week. In comparison, the first week of November 1999 saw a 12 percent increase in at-home unique visitors. The year-over-year differences can possibly be attributed to a cutback in dot-com advertising and continuing interest in the presidential election.

More than two-thirds of the U.S. online population have indicated to the Boston Consulting Group and Harris Interactive (HPOL) that they are considering buying gifts over the Internet this season. An overwhelming majority of last year's buyers, 88 percent, intend to purchase as many or more gifts online this year as they did last year. And they'll spend more - the average online shopper spent US$170 on holiday gifts. This year, they expect lay out $240.

Almost half of this season's anticipated online shoppers have not bought holiday gifts over the Internet before, and an additional 10 percent will be completely new to online shopping. These first-time online shoppers will be the most cautious of all, spending a mere 7 percent of their holiday shopping budget online, and will be almost twice as likely to be dissatisfied with the shopping experience.

Some 6.3 million of this year's buyers are expected to spend more than half of their holiday budget online this year, up nearly four times over last year.

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