Web-based shopping on the rise, no end in sight

A slew of recent studies of web-based shopping behavior indicates that online shopping is not going away and is in fact booming -- and not just because of the holiday season even though the sales boost over Thanksgiving was impressive.
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A slew of recent studies of web-based shopping behavior indicates that online shopping is not going away and is in fact booming -- and not just because of the holiday season even though the sales boost over Thanksgiving was impressive.

On 2,000 sites monitored by BizRate.com, a shopping-comparison site, Thanksgiving Day sales totaled $197 million, up 30 percent from 2002; sales through Dec. 1 were an impressive $256 million, up 26 percent over 2002 numbers. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that online sales jumps are so large chiefly because the base is so small, with overall online sales accounting for a mere 6 percent of the $217 billion expected to be spent by shoppers this holiday season.

A Shop.org/BizRate.com survey found that 50 percent of all consumers are now using the web more to browse and research products before buying them in a physical store or through a catalog. In contrast, the same survey found that 45 percent of shoppers are researching gift purchase in physical stores and in catalogs before buying online. The same study surveyed retailers, with 44 percent reporting that free shipping offers were the most effective marketing tools for convincing consumers to buy online during the holiday season.

BizRate.com also published predictions that Internet purchases for the holiday season could rise as much as 22 percent this year, up to almost $18 billion with an estimated 81 million shoppers logging on to research or buy something online.

For the year, Forrester Research predicts that online purchasing will jump 42 percent over 2002, reaching $12.2 billion. In fact, the research firm is going so far as to predict that by 2008, 63 million homes will be active online shoppers and that 10 percent of all sales will be made online.

What's driving the boom? Widely available broadband connections now in use by more than 20 percent of the U.S. homes has made the internet a speedy electronic shopping highway to many.

And the trend isn't isolated to the United States: According to Jupiter Research, a even higher percentage of Western European users will shop online than will users in the Unitd States for the first time this year -- 44 percent compared to 40 percent. In fact, in 2003, Jupiter expects each online shoppers in Europe will spend an average of $516 online, accounting for $36.2 billion USD in total revenue for the year. By 2004, the numbers are expected to increase to $48.7 billion spent for the year, with a 2008 prediction of $118.8 billion in online sales.

What are web shoppers buying? According to the American Express Retail Index, 38 percent of all online purchases are health, fitness or sports equipment related. 59 percent are books or magazine subscription purchases, and 85 percent are clothing buys.

Who is the online shopper? Again, according to the American Express Retail Index, 54 percent are female (replacing males as the dominate shopping force online), 47 percent have children, 67 percent are married, 31 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34, 41 percent are between the ages of 35 and 49, and 56 percent have an average income higher than $50,000.

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