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Online Shoppers Are Getting It Done Earlier

Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- has for decades been the official opening of the holiday shopping season, and many larger real-world stores open their doors at 6 a.m. or even earlier to handle the crush.

But it's just possible that e-commerce may be changing that a little, given that it can be done at home or at the office, at your leisure, on your own time, and well ahead of time.

Initial findings from the third 2003 Holiday eSpending Report (which now will appear weekly) show that online shoppers are getting there well before Thanksgiving and at least some are already finished with their holiday chores.

The eSpending Report is put out by Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen//NetRatings and is based on a weekly national survey of more than 800 online shoppers surveyed online by Harris Interactive.

Perhaps less surprisingly, the survey found that more folks than ever plan to make e-commerce a part of their holiday spending plan. About 67 percent of those surveyed during the week ending Nov. 15 reported they have visited an e-commerce site, up from 60 percent during the same week last year.

"This year we're seeing people begin their online holiday shopping earlier, with 56 percent reporting that they have either started or finished their online holiday shopping, up 10 points from 46 percent this time last year," said Lori Iventosch-James, director of e-commerce research at Harris Interactive.

Web measurement and research firm comScore Networks also found similar sentiments.

"In mid-October we began to see non-travel e-commerce sales pick up," comScore spokesman Graham Mudd said. He added that from last January through October, e-commerce was showing 18 to 20 percent growth over the same peariod a year earlier, and "for the holiday season we're expecting to see even more.

The eSpending report is designed to offer weekly intelligence on online shopping and spending by market segment and also tracks consumer attitudes and motivations that drive online shopping.

And this year could be another record-setter. JupiterResearch, a division of Jupitermedia Corp. (QUOTE NASDAQ:JUPM), has forecast that online holiday retail sales this season will be about $17 billion, a 21 percent increase over online consumer spending in 2002.

Jupiter has forecast that close to 40 percent of online users plan to do some or all of their holiday shopping online, an increase of 18 percent over last year. And half of consumers polled for that report said they can find the products they are looking for more easily online than in stores

The eSpending Report echoes that.

"The data point to a strong online holiday shopping season, " said Robert Leathern, director of commerce analytics at Nielsen//NetRatings. "Convenience and the ease of comparing products and pricing are advantages that online retailers continue to have over stores: this year, increased category breadth and improved site usability are drawing seasoned and new shoppers alike to online commerce sites."

The latest eSpending Report study showed that the average person surveyed expects to spend 23 percent of his or her shopping budget online, as compared to the estimated 19 percent spent online in 2002.

And the average person is allocating approximately 70 percent for store shopping in 2003, down from 74 percent spent in 2002. Clearly the malls and big box retailers remain as shopping destinations

The budget allotment for catalog shopping remains steady at approximately seven percent, the report found.

Online retailers clearly are aware that last-minute shoppers also can add significantly to the bottom line. Jupiter's study found that 41 percent of online retailers surveyed will offer extended cut-off dates in order to encourage last-minute purchases. Just over half of the retailers surveyed will also rely on new seasonal staff to accommodate the increased demand.

The eSpending Report is based on a weekly national survey of more than 800 online shoppers (ages 18+) randomly selected from Harris Interactive's online panel. The report will offer insights on online shopping and spending by market segment.