Online buying to be merry

Consumers are expected to spend more time shopping online this holiday season than they did last year, according to industry analysts.

In fact, more than half of the 1,000 shoppers surveyed by, a Web site for frequent shoppers, said they plan to do at least 54 per cent of their shopping online this year. MyPoints members expect to buy everything from apparel, books and magazines to home electronics and even gourmet food and beverages online this holiday season.

“Overall, we expect online holiday shopping to be up more than 25 per cent over last year,” said David Rosen, MyPoints’ senior vice-president for marketing.

According to the survey, an equal percentage of women and men agreed that shopping online has made them happier shoppers. Some 29 per cent of the women and 34 per cent of the men said the single biggest benefit of shopping online is finding the best prices.

Another 23 per cent of the women and 24 per cent of the men cited the efficiency of online shopping as the biggest benefit.

Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst at eMarketer Inc., said in a statement that he’s confident this holiday season will be a bright one for online retailers, despite high oil prices and the uncertain long-term impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Online retail sales for the fourth quarter of this year will be US$26.2 billion, up 21.9 per cent over last year, according to a survey by eMarketer. Much of the gain is coming as shoppers continue to migrate online from traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

“Several factors are behind this growth — a longer shopping season on the Internet; improved order fulfillment, which allows shoppers to make purchases nearly until Christmas; and intense competition among online retailers, which leads to aggressive promotions — all benefiting the deal-seeking consumer,” Grau said in the statement.

High gasoline prices and bad weather may even tempt more shoppers to do more holiday shopping online this year, he said.

The Toronto-based Retail Council of Canada reported that while the vast majority of Canadians (92 per cent) plan to shop in stores for gifts this holiday, 30 per cent plan to also shop online. Of these, Canadians between 35 and 44 years of age are the most likely to shop for gifts online (37 per cent), the report found.

In a similar report, Forrester Research Inc. analyst Carrie Johnson said online sales will rise by 25 per cent to US$18 billion between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, the Web is not insulated from off-line concerns like rising gas prices, she said in the report. That means if off-line retailers suffer, so will their online counterparts.

However, online retailers are expected to benefit from new shoppers this year. In addition, free shipping offers could drive up the average size of online orders this season, she said.

Despite the cheery news, Johnson said the first quarter of 2006 isn’t looking as good for online retailers. “Although Q4 looks OK, the trends that both bolster and keep online sales at bay in Q4 will converge to negatively affect online sales in Q1,” Johnson said in the report.

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