December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Whose crystal ball should you look into?

Every year retailers shoot for the biggest sales in the fourth quarter-and analysts are right behind them estimating how the online industry is faring. And their numbers usually differ signficiantly from each other. But their differences are not just a matter of who says how much consumers will buy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s also about how the market observers calculate their numbers.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group predicts that online retailers worldwide will surpass $19.5 billion in revenue with North America representing $10.7 billion. Geri Spieler, research director for Gartner’s eBusiness Services, says the prediction was based on a large growth of Internet penetration over the past year into the home and office, noting that Internet shoppers are now used to making larger purchases online.

New York-based Jupiter Media Metrix predicts that U.S. consumers will spend $9 billion on online retail producs this holiday season. Jupiter says this year’s retailers will spend less and spend smarter on advertising, noting that traditional retail brands will dominate this year’s shopping season.

Looking at spending based on households, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research predicts that online spending this holiday season will reach $10 billion, double last year, with 66% more online shoppers than in 1999. Forrester believes 16.6 million households will shop online, and each household will spend about $603 online between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Boston-based Yankee Group forecasts that fourth quarter/holiday shopping will reach $9 billion, based on data from Yankee’s Online Shopping survey of 3,500 consumers as well as on online shopping and U.S. retail growth trends.

New York-based eMarketer predicts that U.S. consumers will spend $12.5 billion online, boosting the year’s e-commerce revenues total to $37 billion. Of the nearly 45 million shopping online this season, 13% will be new. The company predicts consumers will spend an average of $280 online this year. Even with shipping and web site debacles last year, eMarketer says 78% of consumers were satisfied with online shopping last year and will go back even to the sites that had problems.

Despite more than 100% increases in spending this season, online is only a small fraction-slightly above one-half of 1%-of total retail, which eMarketer says is $860 billion in 2000. So who’s got the best take? We’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out.

Holiday shopping predictions

(in billions)

BizRate: $11.90

eMarketer: 12.50

Forrester Research: 10.00

Gartner Group: 10.70

Jupiter Media Metrix: 11.60

PricewaterhouseCoopers: 10.00

Yankee Group: 9.00

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