Online Christmas Shoppers Say They’ll Start Early

It’ll be beginning to feel a lot like Christmas much earlier online this year, as shoppers click their way to gifts sooner than merchants expected, says a new report.

The report, based on an online consumer survey by Link Share Corp. and Bizrate.com, found that 28 percent of more than 3,800 consumers polled planned to begin browsing for holiday gifts before October, and almost half plan to shop before November.

The findings contrast sharply with the view of merchants: Nearly 100 online merchants polled had predicted only 9 percent of consumers would start shopping three months or more before Christmas.

“It’s clear that online selling will become increasingly important as we pass into the year 2000 and beyond,” said Stephen Messer, LinkShare’s chairman. “This survey demonstrates that merchants on the Web will need to be both nimble and flexible to meet unexpected challenges posed by e-commerce.”

Contrasting Views

The report also revealed other differences between perceptions of consumers and merchants.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the merchants surveyed believe that guaranteed on-time delivery will be the incentive most likely to prompt a consumer buy online. But less than 10 percent of consumers who responded agreed. Nearly half listed free shipping and handling as most important, while 22 percent cited discounts.

Only a third of the merchants surveyed believed free shipping and handling would be the key incentive for consumers to buy online, while only 13 percent of the merchants believed the same about product discounts.

Consumers’ biggest worry is that they won’t receive their purchases on time, with 48 percent saying that product availability and on-time delivery will be their major concern when shopping online this holiday season.

“The discrepancies between the views of online buyers and e-retailers clearly indicate the need for merchants to have better access to information about what their customers are thinking when they buy online,” said Farhad Mohit, president and CEO of BizRate.com.

But the survey found the Y2K bug seems of little concern to consumers: 92 percent said that Y2K will have little or no effect on their online shopping this year.

About the Companies

Los Angeles-based BizRate.com monitors e-commerce by soliciting information from millions of online buyers as they make their purchases. These buyers represent more than 20 percent of all on-line retail commerce.

LinkShare provides partnership-based marketing programs on the Web. The company serves more than 200 of the biggest names in e-retailing, such as Borders.com, Cyberian Outpost, Dell, 1-800-Flowers, and Omaha Steaks. Based in New York, LinkShare is privately owned and manages a network of tens of thousands of affiliate sites.

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