Surveys Upbeat About Holiday E-Commerce

More than sixty percent of shoppers surveyed by AOL for its first Online Shopping Cities report said they will buy more online this holiday season than last year.

The survey did not indicate whether this was simply a shift from shopping channel or incremental sales. But it did confirm e-commerce as the one bright spot for retailers hobbled by a troubled economy, fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and fears of terrorism and a war with Iraq.

“I think the story with e-commerce this year is that it’s a continuation of a trend of making shopping online habitual and that’s borne out by some of the statistics, like 86 percent of Internet consumers say they either research or buy products online on a monthly basis,” said Katherine Borsecnik, formerly president of AOL Interactive Group and now consultant.

A separate survey released by the New York-based Conference Board is also optimistic in its holiday forecasts for overall spending across the offline and online channels. It claims that American families intend to spend $483 on gifts this Christmas, up 5 percent from last year’s $462.

According to the AOL survey of 6,976 online shoppers, 64 percent claim they will spend more money online this year than they did in 2001. They expect to spend an average of $298 online this holiday season.

Expected online spending for the holidays differs from city to city.

Consumers in San Francisco are expected to spend $399.20, followed by Nashville’s $381.40 and Miami’s $352.50. Consumers in Philadelphia are expected to budget $349, Sacramento $340.70, Baltimore $335.70 and New York $334.50. Projected spends for Pittsburgh, Boston and Los Angeles respectively are $332.50, $329.60 and $325.10.

At the lower end are cities like San Diego, Seattle, Portland, OR; and Washington, with respective expected online holiday spends of $321.40, $271.50, $274.20 and $274.

Personality traits were also unearthed in this survey. Forty-percent of the surveyed online shoppers said they were bargain hunters and 22 percent considered themselves researchers. The others identified themselves as searchers, brand shoppers, promotion finders and procrastinators.

One out of two respondents said they do most of their shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas and 27 percent buy gifts throughout the year. Three percent of those surveyed buy gifts after Christmas for post-holiday sales bargains.

Interestingly, more husbands than wives will buy gifts online for their spouse: 50 percent vs. 38 percent. Men will also spend $50 more than a woman in a typical month. For the holidays, men are more apt to do their shopping in the week before Christmas than women: 13 percent vs. 7 percent.

“Online shopping started out as the domain of male shoppers,” said AOL spokeswoman Lisa Gibby. “What we've found on AOL is that over the years women have taken over the majority and now represent 65 percent of the overall online shopping population on AOL. But men still outspend women.”

The Conference Board study was conducted earlier this month by NFO WorldGroup, a subsidiary of ad agency holding company Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., the survey sampled 5,000 households nationwide.

Although job growth slowed, real income was rising at the rate of 3 percent, Conference Board said. A promotional environmental characterized by continued discounting by retailers online and offline will also help spur holiday spending.

The Conference Board said 34 percent of American families will spend more than $500 on Christmas gifts and 38 percent will spend $200 to $500. Families in New England will lead with average holiday spending of $552. Families in the east-south-central region including Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi will spend only $393, on average.

Nearly 27 percent of the surveyed households aim to buy holiday gifts online this holiday season, up from 21 percent last year. The biggest online purchases will be for books, toys and games, apparel and footwear, and music CDs.

That purchase pattern mirrors the findings of the AOL survey.

Online shoppers are expected to buy an average of 10 gifts online this holiday season. Music and videos were the favorite category, followed by books, apparel, toys, computer software and games, gift certificates, consumer electronics, travel services, health and beauty, flowers and computer hardware.

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