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Online shopping numbers dip, report says

The percentage of online consumers who are shopping and buying on the Web is down compared with the numbers a year ago, a new study says.

Amid tough times for many dot-coms, a new report suggests that online shopping habits are on the decline.

The percentage of online consumers who are shopping and buying on the Web is down compared with a year ago, according to a new study from Greenfield Online, a Wilton, Conn.-based Internet market researcher.

Of those surveyed, totaling 3,000, 78 percent shopped online and 70 percent bought online in the first quarter of this year, compared with 86 percent and 74 percent, respectively, for the same period a year ago. However, the percentage of those planning to buy more online in the future dropped only 1 percent from this year to last.

The primary reason recipients gave for curbing their shopping habits was shipping, said Gail Jenensch, a spokeswoman from Greenfield, which weighted the survey to reflect the U.S. Internet population. She said that during the holidays, many shoppers enjoyed promotions such as free shipping, which encouraged more purchases. But now that the promotions have died down, shoppers do not want to pay the shipping costs involved with buying online, she said.

In contrast, online auctions are growing in popularity. The percentage of consumers participating in auctions grew 4 percentage points from last year, from 40 percent to 44 percent, the report found.

Click-and-mortars scored high among online consumers surveyed, too; 43 percent of online shoppers say they are more comfortable buying from e-tailers that have an offline store nearby. "People are beginning to recognize the value of brand name sites and places that have brick-and-mortar stores where they can return goods easily," Jenensch said.

The report found that only 9 percent of consumers have returned an item bought online to a local retail store while 32 percent have bought and returned an item to an online store.

The report also found that the most popular items among consumers are shifting. Computer hardware was replaced by health and beauty products in the top five most popular items bought online. Behind this may be the growing number of women on the Web, the report suggested. The ratio of men to women who shop online is 68 percent female to 71 percent male, compared with 70 percent female to 77 percent male a year ago.

Among the other top categories online in the first quarter of 2000 were books, CDs, computer software and clothing.