Consumers Ready for Holiday Shopping, but Are E-Merchants?

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New York - The online holiday shopping season may arrive sooner than merchants think, according to a recent study.


Twenty-eight percent of 3,851 online shoppers polled after they had made purchases earlier this month said they plan to begin browsing online for holiday gifts before October, and almost half plan to shop online before November. The study was conducted by affiliate program broker LinkShare Corp., New York, and online survey firm BizRate.com, Los Angeles.


Online shoppers' answers differed sharply from merchants' expectations. Of the close to 100 merchants surveyed, just 9 percent thought consumers would begin browsing for holiday gifts before November.


Sixty percent of those who said they would begin shopping before Nov. 1 were women and 40 percent were men.


"What this means is that September's [online marketing] programs should probably focus on women," said Carol Head, vice president of marketing at BizRate.com, in presenting the findings to attendees at LinkShare's "Next Phase of E-Commerce" summit held here.


Merchants and online buyers also differed sharply over what drives purchases.


While 31 percent of merchants surveyed believed guaranteed on-time delivery was the incentive most likely to make consumers buy products online, just 10 percent of consumers agreed.


And while one-third of merchants said free shipping and handling are a key incentive to shopping online, 48 percent of consumers surveyed cited it as the No. 1 incentive that would drive them to buy online.


Also, 22 percent of consumers said discounts would convince them to do their holiday shopping online. Thirteen percent of merchants surveyed said product discounts would be a key online buying incentive.


Another finding: posted privacy policies decrease in importance as consumers get comfortable with Internet shopping. "It's important to newbies, but decreases over time," said Head.

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