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Net stores to lure holiday buyers

Increasing numbers of shoppers are expected leave the car in the garage and click through virtual malls and Web storefronts to find gifts.

Shopping centers may have slimmer crowds this holiday season as increasing numbers of shoppers leave the car in the garage and click through virtual malls and Web storefronts to find gifts.

If a survey being released today by Visa U.S.A. is a true reflection of shoppers' intent, 46 percent of Internet users expect to shop online this fall. And 60 percent of the respondents will be making their first-ever online purchases.

Research firm Jupiter Communications also released a study last week predicting that holiday shopping would skyrocket, with shoppers expected to spend $2.3 billion on the Net this year, up from last year's $1.1 billion.

Visa's survey of 1,012 adult PC users with Internet access at home or work was conducted by NFO Research. But it went farther than mere shopping plans, and uncovered some interesting facts about the personal habits of online shoppers.

For instance, 60 percent of them have shopped in their pajamas. Not surprisingly, since they are often at home when shopping, more than four out of five shopped with their shoes off. The survey didn't ask whether respondents shopped in their birthday suit.

Also not surprisingly, 37 percent said the most difficult person they shop for is a spouse or partner. But the Net may take some of the pain out of that difficult task: 65 percent said shopping online makes it easier to find gifts for the hard-to-shop-for.

Given all the hype surrounding online book and music retailers, there was one bit of perhaps unexpected news: Clothing will top both books and CDs on shoppers' gift lists. Only 9 percent said they will buy CDs and 20 percent named books. Clothing came in with 24 percent.

Children will make out well this Christmas, with 29 percent of respondents saying they will buy online for their youngsters. (Don't get too excited, kids. You're likely to get socks--only 11 percent of respondents plan to buy toys online.)

As much as people may "browse" on the Net, when it comes to shopping they aren't browsing the way they do in stores. According to the survey, 86 percent said they have specific items in mind as they shop.

The Net's convenience seems to be a major factor in its growing popularity among shoppers--more than two-thirds of respondents cited convenience as the main reason they shop online.

The Net is always open, and more than 45 percent said they shopped on weekdays between 5 p.m. and midnight. Four percent, the night owls, said they shopped between midnight and 9 a.m. No doubt drawing sighs of relief from bosses, only 25 percent admitted to shopping online from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Unlike shopping malls, weekends don't see much activity on the Net. Only 15 percent said they shopped online on Saturdays and Sundays. Maybe that's when they all drive to the mall.