January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Online purchasers, gifts purchased and spending all up

Preliminary results from Boston Consulting Group and Harris Interactive show that this holiday season the number of online purchasers is up, with 49 million consumers spending, on average, 38% more on holiday gifts than last year`s online purchasers.

As of Dec. 11, the average online holiday shopper had already bought six holiday gifts online totaling $234, up from $170 last year. In addition, the number of online holiday shoppers has grown 23% compared to the 1999 holiday season, with 40% of the online population having bought a holiday gift online.

Yet, a significant percentage of consumers who had earlier considered doing their holiday shopping online have decided not to. The new research shows that 27 million shoppers, who represent 22% of the online population, decided against purchasing holiday gifts online this year.

"While online retailers have been able to encourage individual consumers to do more holiday shopping online, there are still far too many consumers sitting on the fence," says Michael Silverstein, Boston Consulting senior vice president and leader of the firm`s Consumer Practice. "These are the consumers who won`t believe in online retailing as a reliable alternative to traditional shopping during the holiday season until they try it for themselves, or a friend or relative convinces them otherwise. Word of mouth drives usage. So far, consumers are telling each other, it`s a mixed bag."

The survey revealed that 79% of online holiday shoppers were either satisfied or very satisfied with their holiday shopping experience, with 90% indicating that the product selection online was as good as or better than it is off-line. 21% of consumers, however, have experienced a purchasing problem of some kind--such as receiving an incomplete order or the wrong or a damaged gift. So far, 11% of gifts ordered online were received later than the scheduled delivery date.

"Despite nagging problems with delivery, consumer satisfaction remains quite high. Only 35 consumers have expressed a clear dissatisfaction with their online holiday shopping experience," says Lori Iventosch-James, director of e-commerce research for Harris Interactive.

These findings were obtained from an online survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group and Harris Interactive from Dec. 8-11. This quantitative survey was completed by 1,930 Internet users over the age of 18 who live in the U. S., selected from Harris Interactive`s panel of more than 7 million respondents. Results were weighted to reflect the U.S. online population.

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