Hint to Merchants: Start the Push Now

Adding to a collection of earlier predictions, Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s corporate parent) said it is forecasting U.S. online holiday sales of $13.1 billion for November and December, up about 17 percent from last year.

The New York City-based online research outfit, drawing on data from its annual holiday consumer and executive surveys, said that its holiday spending figure is equivalent to about 32 percent of all online sales for the year, and that despite the shorter holiday shopping season in 2002. Thanksgiving doesn’t arrive until Nov. 28 this year.

Although the forecast is positive, Jupiter Analyst Ken Cassar said the e-commerce market is maturing, and there are likely to be fewer new online shoppers.

But merchants should be ready early, as 79 percent of shoppers polled said they plan to do their shopping four weeks or more before the Christmas holiday.

Cassar said the biggest driver of increased sales this year is that online users indicate in surveys that they plan to spend 39 percent of their gift budgets online in 2002, as opposed to 31 percent last year. However, each shopper on average says they plan to spend a little less this year, “in part because of the difficult economy and in part because the Internet audience is more mainstream and not so dominated by affluent early adopters.”

The key to success for retailers, Cassar said, is to convince shoppers to buy early. Jupiter said that shipping and handling promotions again head the consumer wish list, along with discounts for buying online.

Jupiter said its data indicates that books will remain the most popular gift, followed by music, clothing, toys and gift certificates.

Cassar said that when people were asked why they plan to shop online, the answers this year had “mostly to do with convenience” – saving time, avoiding crowds, shopping when the stores are closed. But when it comes to decision time, price was still the determining factor in selecting which merchants to patronize.

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