The e-mail offers are coming fast and furious.
"There's still time," screamed one that arrived in my inbox Tuesday, promising 20 percent off any item or free shipping at Art.com. I had only to enter "Santa" or "free shipping" in a special box at checkout -- and order by Dec. 16.
"Christmas Delivery -- Guaranteed!" shrieked another arriving yesterday from Overstock.com. It offered $1 shipping on any order, amounting to about $2 off Overstock's standard shipping price of $2.95. That deal also expires tonight.
Such fine-print deadlines are deal-breakers for Internet holiday shoppers, especially with only nine days left until Christmas. The reality is that you do not have much time left for Internet shopping, unless you want to break the piggy bank for expedited shipping of gifts.
While offline shoppers still have eight full shopping days to fight the grumpy throngs at area malls, online shoppers have half that -- or less -- to take advantage of free and low-cost shipping.
Today through Saturday are the cutoff dates for standard shipping at most Internet retailers in order to guarantee delivery by Dec. 24. Since free-delivery offers usually apply only to standard shipping, which takes four to seven days, that means Internet orders get more expensive next week when people starting paying extra for second-day air or next-day service to guarantee Christmas delivery.
"This is the big crunch week for online shopping," said Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based E-Tailing Group Inc., a consultant to the retailing industry. "Next week you will have a few players who can still handle ground shipping, then everything will move into expedited shipping."
There could be some disappointed shoppers out there. Only 27 percent of online shoppers reported having finished their holiday shopping by last week, compared with 31 percent at the same time last year, according to a report released Monday by Goldman Sachs & Co., Harris Interactive Inc. and Nielsen NetRatings Inc.
Some 3 percent had an acute case of last-minute-itis and had not even begun their gift buying. About half had done some but not all, according to the report.
In the weekly survey of holiday shoppers, half of those contacted by Nielsen NetRatings cited shipping fees as one of the top five reasons they chose to buy at a particular Web site. For 63 percent, price was the top deciding factor. Nielsen NetRatings predicted Internet purchases would peak this week because of free-shipping deadlines.