December 23, 2002, 12:00 AM

Online Q4 spending on track to reach $20 billion or more, Forrester says

Spurred by shoppers who started early, online sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas will reach some $9.5 billion, Forrester Research is projecting. Consumers were lured by free shipping offers and targeted catalog mailings.

The complete numbers for the holiday sales season online aren’t in yet, but they will be in a matter of days. Forrester Research Inc. says indications are that consumers are on track to hit its projection of spending $9.5 billion in online retail and travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas and $20 billion or more for the fourth quarter for two reasons: shoppers started buying early in the season, and retailers pushed the envelope in cross-channel marketing.

“The free shipping bonanza lured online consumers to shop earlier during this truncated shopping season,” says Forrester analyst Carrie Johnson. At the same time, retailers made good use of catalogs and fliers to promote online purchases, in some cases supporting shoppers using the online channel with new technology. Forrester reports that Pier 1 Imports, for example, tested dynamic “clickable” circulars on its web site and saw a 400% increase in usage over its old PDF version.

Meanwhile, some formerly pure-play online retailers launched catalogs to boost sales. Among them are eBags and Blue Nile, which reported holiday sales increases of 40% to 80% over last year, Forrester says.

What’s hot online is somewhat linked to price this year. While lower-priced items such as DVDs flew off the shelves, higher-ticket consumer electronics rose only 19% from last year, according to Forrester. Meanwhile, online sales of home and garden items and jewelry are up 79% over last year.

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