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AOL users spend billions over holidays

The online service's members spend $2.5 billion shopping on the Internet during the holiday season, a total more than double the same period last year.

Internet giant America Online said members of its service spent $2.5 billion shopping on the Internet during the holiday season, a total that more than doubled from the same period last year.

The results come as more AOL users are shopping online, according an independent research firm contracted by the company for this study. Two-thirds of AOL's 20 million members have made an online purchase, and the number of users making their first purchase doubled to 2.5 million during the 1999 holiday season, according to the study.

AOL said that on average, each of its members spent $300 during the season, up 50 percent from 1998. And 95 percent of the users surveyed said they would shop online again within the next six months.

"This is an overall showing of the buying power of AOL members," said AOL spokeswoman Julie Mason.

She added that the $2.5 billion spent online by AOL members was not limited to AOL-specific services, such as its Shop@AOL sites, which are also included on AOL.com; its Netcenter Web portal; and CompuServe. The figure included purchases made on non-AOL-affiliated sites throughout the Web.

These figures are the first to come out of the online giant since the close of the holiday season. Holiday e-commerce revenues are estimated to potentially total $11 billion this year, an increase of more than 300 percent from the last year's season, according to a survey conducted by Shop.org.

The season was a record year for online retailers, but not one immune to headaches. Retailers such as eToys, Toysrus.com and Macys.com suffered highly publicized shipping problems. And many analysts are questioning how well online merchants can facilitate merchandise returns and retain customers throughout the coming year.