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Toys Take Top Spot in Holiday Web Sales

Move over apparel. Toys are king of the online shopping mountain this holiday season, indicating that Internet shopper demographics are beginning to mirror their offline counterparts.

America Online reports toys have overtaken apparel as this holiday season's top-selling category compared to last year. Two years ago, top seller was computers. With 14 million subscribers, AOL is the leading indicator of online trends.

“We're seeing the trend continue from last holiday season, where for the first time we started seeing the mass-market consumer going online to shop, and buying the same sorts of things that they buy in the offline world,” said Wendy Goldberg, spokeswoman for AOL.

This year's hottest selling toys online mirror those offline: Furby, Teletubbies and Blue's Clues.

“People are finding out that sometimes when you have a hard time finding hot toys and you don't want to run from store to store, you can find it online,” Goldberg said.

AOL also said its shopping area traffic has quadrupled this holiday season. Toy Web sites overall saw a 56 percent spike in traffic during the first holiday shopping week beginning the day after Thanksgiving, according to Media Metrix Inc., New York. Adults age 18 to 34 accounted for most of the toy-site visitors, and 68 percent of them have children in their households, the Internet audience measurement firm reported.

“The demographics of the people using toy sites — younger adults with children — provides solid evidence that this segment of commerce sites is being accepted by its target audience as an attractive alternative to the crowded malls,” said Ted Hawthorne, vice president of research at Media Metrix.

iQVC, the Internet arm of television shopping channel QVC Inc., West Chester, PA, also says its Internet holiday shoppers mirror its cable audience. Online holiday sales are up 150 percent over last year, the company reported. Also, parent company QVC reported a record $100 million in sales for the first week of December, with $35 million in sales coming on Sunday, Dec. 6.

“QVC is on fire, and our online business at iQVC is equally as exciting,” said Stuart Spiegel, vice president and general manager of iQVC.

The company said its Web site, at www.iqvc.com, brings in $500,000 a day in orders for everything from appliances to jewelry.

“What this tells us is that customers are looking at their shopping list and coming to iQVC as a one-stop shop,” said Spiegel, who added that the overwhelming majority of iQVC's orders are coming from women. “iQVC is moms online. We're saving them time.”

Other online merchants also report sales spikes this holiday season.

1-800-Flowers, Westbury, NY, said online holiday sales are up more than 100 percent over last year, but the company expected more.

“The first two weeks in December were kind of soft,” said Donna Iucalano, vice president of interactive services at 1-800-Flowers. “The weather was nice, and people weren't in the holiday mood.”

The convenience of shopping online and the knowledge that gifts can be delivered overnight may be fueling procrastination, she said.

“I think its going to be a more up-to-the-minute holiday,” Iucalano said. “The whole concept of Black Friday doesn't exist online like it does for brick-and-mortar stores.”

Online retailers' trade group Shop.org reported last week that members' holiday revenue is up 275 percent over last year and that the number of orders placed grew 229 percent.

“We have seen strong growth across the major gift-giving categories indicating that the online holiday buying season began in earnest over Thanksgiving,” said David Pecaut, senior vice president of Shop.org's research firm Boston Consulting Group.

Online sales this holiday season are expected to triple to $2.55 billion from $800 million last year, according to research firm The Yankee Group, Boston. The number of households shopping online this year will grow to an estimated 8.8 million this year from 5.2 million a year ago, the firm said.

One reason for the trend toward mass-market consumption online is that consumer fears over credit card security are vanishing. In a pre-holiday survey, American Express found that 10 percent of its cardholders planned to shop online compared to 6 percent last year.

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