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Tech Industry

E-tailers push last-minute sales

Many Net merchants promise to deliver gift certificates for last-minute shoppers.

Although the deadline has passed to deliver Web-bought gifts in time for Christmas, e-commerce sites still are hustling to drum-up some last-minute business.

Their answer: gift certificates.

"A gift for Mom: $100 from Anne," is what is promoting today. The Web site goes on to explain: "Still haven't finished your holiday shopping? Not to worry. Within hours, we can send an e-mail gift certificate anywhere in the world."

eToys has the same idea. "Our holiday shipping deadlines have passed. New orders placed today cannot be guaranteed for delivery by Christmas, but a Gift Certificate will get there in seconds!"

CDNow tells its would-be customers: "When the mailman can't deliver, we can. Send a gift certificate electronically in seconds."

CDNow's gift certificate comes complete with music.

Other Web sites already are turning their attention to New Year's to boost sales. "Order by noon (PST) December 29 for Millennium delivery," reads the recently launched Web site of Williams-Sonoma, which now is showing photos of champagne and caviar.

Virtual shopping has been tapering off in recent days, largely because of the limitations of the real world: shipping goods fast enough in time for Christmas Day. Analysts estimate customers will buy more than $5 billion in goods this holiday season, generating record sales.

The results, which will be released starting next week, will be closely watched by Wall Street. After soaring earlier this year, many retail stocks recently have slumped.