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It's a $15 billion jolly holiday for Web

Online stores will see a rise in seasonal sales, study predicts.

Online shopping this holiday season will zoom past $15 billion--a big jump from last year's tally, ComScore Networks said on Wednesday.

Excluding travel-related items, Internet-based sales should rise to between $15.1 billion and $15.5 billion, up by between 23 percent and 26 percent from November and December of 2003. Consumers spent $12.3 billion during that period, the research firm said.

In the fourth quarter, nontravel spending will leap the $20 billion barrier for the first time, ComScore said. The total could reach $20.7 billion to $21.1 billion, up about one-fourth from the $16.7 billion revenue in the last three months of 2003.

The growth is partly a result of consumers' increasing comfort with online shopping, ComScore said. Other factors include the growing number of people with broadband connections and efforts by retailers to simplify online buying.

"While forecasted growth will be slightly lower this season than last, online retailers will still close the year up about 25 percent compared to 2003--an impressive accomplishment, given mixed signals of consumer confidence and a soft economy in general," Dan Hess, a ComScore senior vice president, said in a statement.

Product categories expected to do particularly well are jewelry and watches, forecasted to rise 67 percent to $739 million; furniture, appliances and equipment, up 58 percent to $1.7 billion; computer software (excluding PC games), up 43 percent to $1.2 billion; and flowers, greetings and miscellaneous gifts, also up 43 percent, to $1.1 billion.

ComScore's projections fall between estimates from other research firms. For November and December, JupiterResearch predicts online sales of $21.6 billion. For the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Forrester Research expects sales of $13.6 billion. All three companies, however, see slower growth in online holiday sales.

That tempered optimism contrasts with the enthusiasm of Jeff Bezos, CEO of online retail giant Amazon.com. He said on Tuesday that his company is poised for record holiday sales, with MP3 players and digital cameras leading the way as this year's hot gift items.

"This will be our 10th holiday season, and every year has been bigger than the prior one," Bezos told Reuters in an interview Tuesday. "I see no reason to expect a change this year."

Reuters contributed to this report.