With a credit card and a few clicks of her mouse, Kay Luster sent Christmas cookie bouquets to a half-dozen friends last year.
This year, the busy Scottsdale woman expects to do about 30 percent of her holiday shopping on the Internet, spending $300 to $400 on gifts and shipping them around the country without ever standing in line at a check-out counter or post office.
“I have friends and family all over the place,” Luster said. “This is a way for me to get them something different and send it right to them.”
Luster is among the estimated 63.3 million U.S. shoppers who are expected to spend $16.8 billion online this holiday season.
That’s up 22 percent from last year and nearly twice the 2000 Internet holiday sales tab, according to a study done by online retail tracker Jupiter Research. “The growth is primarily from new online shoppers,” said Jupiter retail analyst Patti Freeman Evans. Jupiter surveyed potential online shoppers and Web retailers in early October about expectations for the upcoming spending season.
Online shoppers said they would shell out an average $265 on holiday gifts and garb. That’s up slightly from the $257 they spent shopping in cyberspace last year.
But Jupiter predicts nearly 10 million more people will buy by computer this holiday season than last.
Jupiter asked, “Why?”
“It’s the convenience. That’s the main thing,” Luster said of the reason she likes to shop the Web. Seven out of 10 Jupiter respondents apparently agreed — listing time savings, avoiding crowds and shopping when stores are closed as prime motivators. “Consumers just believe they can find products more easily online than offline,” Evans said. “They purchase online primarily because it’s convenient.”
Once online, consumers comparison shop and choose their Internet retailer because of such things as price, product availability, shipping options, easy-to-use site and customer service, Evans said.
“Price remains the first criteria, but it has diminished in importance,” Evans said. “Low-cost shipping continues to be a driver.”
About 60 percent of the respondents picked price, and nearly half said bargain shipping was a key criteria for gift purchases.
Cheap shipping was the top criteria for those who dubbed themselves last-minute shoppers, followed by a guaranteed delivery date.
The prevalence of last minute holiday shopping has led Web retailers to find ways to capture the business, Evans said.
Just a few years years ago the typical cutoff date for guaranteed Christmas delivery was Dec. 15, she said, but the date has been inching closer to Christmas ever since.
“Last year the standard cutoff was Dec. 20. Now 22 percent will cut off Dec. 23,” she said. “Retailers who offer in-store pickup stand to gain. At Circuit City, the online order cutoff is 3 p.m. Dec. 24th for in-store pickup.”
The categories gift shoppers plan to purchase online runs the offline gamut, Evans said.
“Women buy clothes and toys, and men buy computers and electronics,” she said.
About 32 percent of the annual online retail sales are expected to be rung up during the holiday season, down from 34 percent last year and 36 percent in 2001, according to Jupiter Research.
“The decline is because of the adoption of online shopping into U.S. consumers’ daily lives,” Evans said.
So-called brick-and-mortar stores are not intimidated by the rapid growth of Web buying, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. In part, that’s because many of the most successful online sites are traditional retailers, she said.
“It’s just another channel to reach consumers,” Duker said. “Brick-and-mortar retailers have learned how to incorporate (online buying) into their plans, and use it as a marketing tool.”
Evans agreed. “People use online sites for research,” she said. “For every $1 spent online, they spend another $6 offline based on online research.”