January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

For Online Shopping, It's Already Beginning To Look A lot Like Christmas

The Fourth of July festivities are barely underway, but online shoppers already have another holiday on their mind: Christmas. In fact, consumers are planning to start their online shopping much earlier than merchants anticipated, according to a survey on holiday e-commerce expectations released this week by LinkShare Corp. and BizRate.com.
    In fact, 28% of the more than 3,800 consumers polled plan to begin browsing online for holiday gifts before October and almost half plan to shop online before November. That response differs greatly from the expectations of the nearly 100 online merchants polled, who had anticipated that only 9% of consumers would start shopping three months or more before the holidays.
    The survey also revealed other discrepancies between the attitudes and expectations of online buyers and online merchants over the incentives driving and challenges facing online shoppers for the final holiday shopping season of the millennium.
    Nearly one-third of the merchants surveyed believe that guaranteed on-time delivery will be the incentive most likely to make a consumer buy a product online this holiday season. But less than 10% of consumers who responded agreed; free shipping and handling was the leading incentive for almost half of the consumers surveyed to make a purchase online, with product discounts driving purchases for 22%.
    Only one-third of the merchants surveyed believed free shipping and handling would be the key incentive for consumers to buy online, while only 13% of the merchants believed the same about product discounts.
    The survey further revealed divergent views from the two groups on the subject of challenges to online buyers during the upcoming holiday season. Nearly a quarter of online merchants believe that customer support will pose the biggest challenge to online buyers-a view shared by only 10% of online consumers.
    Consumers' biggest worry is that they won't receive their purchases on time, with 48% 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.

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