Buy on the Web and Let the Gifts Come to You

Sunday, November 12, 2006

They do it at work. They do it at home. Heck, they even do it at Starbucks.

We're talking about online shoppers, sneaking in a bid on eBay during a conference call. Internet retailing is expected to top $100 billion for the first time this year, according to research firm comScore Networks. Nearly half of shoppers will buy at least one item online this holiday season, and about 89 percent will research their purchases over the Internet.

Retailers aren't ignoring those numbers. They're ramping up promotions and marketing on their Web sites. Free shipping has become almost standard during the holidays, but be wary of blowing that savings in add-ons such as gift wrapping, personalized messages or express mail. Also keep in mind that your gifts need to be ordered several days before Christmas to receive them in time for the holiday -- even if you do splurge on overnight shipping. The last day that will guarantee Christmas delivery for free holiday shipping is Dec. 15, a spokesman said.

That means now is the time to shop. The busiest online shopping days usually are in early to mid-December, though the Monday following Thanksgiving has been hyped as the time when many e-tailers kick in their heftiest online promotions.

Pros : You don't have to fight for parking at the mall.

Cons: Anyone remember 1999? Online retailers got slammed that year, and many couldn't fulfill orders in time to get customers their packages before the holidays. The industry has come a long way since then, but late merchandise is still one of online shoppers' top complaints. A survey by Forrester Research Inc. over the summer found that 15 percent of online shoppers received items late last year and that 27 percent said they won't buy online because of the hassle of returns.

Things to consider : It may be worth putting up with a little spam to sign up for alerts from your favorite online stores. Many send discounts via e-mail and can even let you know when a back-ordered product comes in. You can always unsubscribe from their lists after the holidays. Price-comparison search engines such as can help you stay within your budget.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company