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Online shoppers to spend more for the holidays

The holiday shopping season has begun as many online shoppers already head to virtual stores with plans to spend more than they did last year.

The holiday shopping season has begun, a new survey indicates, as many online shoppers already head to virtual stores with plans to spend more than they did last year.

The new study comes from Reston, Virginia-based PC Data, which sent its survey out to 5,000 Internet users over the weekend, 2,100 of whom responded. Because the company did not pick the survey respondents at random, the study may not be representative of the general population of Internet users.

However, the survey does provide some interesting insights into shoppers' behavior as the holiday season draws near. Many analysts have predicted that millions of new online shoppers will boost e-commerce revenues to record levels this holiday season.

According to the survey, many veteran online shoppers have already started buying gifts. Twenty-six percent of Internet buyers who responded to the survey said they already have begun their holiday shopping. In addition, another 40 percent said they plan to begin shopping before Thanksgiving.

"We were surprised at just the strength of buying activity," said Cameron Meierhoefer, Internet analyst at PC Data Online.

Many shoppers--48 percent of those surveyed--said they planned to spend more online this holiday season than they did last year. Only 14 percent said they planned to spend less.

What they're buying
As part of the survey, PC Data took a look at what online shoppers are buying by asking what kinds of products they bought in the past week and if the purchases were gifts or for themselves. Nearly 26 percent of those surveyed said they had purchased computer software, while about 23 percent said they had bought music.

Other top items included books (18 percent), videos (13 percent), and computer hardware (12 percent).

Of the shoppers who bought computer software, 13 percent said their purchase was for a gift. By contrast, 70 percent of shoppers who bought toys or children's products said the items were gifts.

The survey indicated that consumers are shopping around before making purchases, visiting an average of two to five sites, depending on the category. Music buyers, for instance, shopped at an average of five online stores before making a purchase, while computer hardware purchasers visited an average of two stores.

Meierhoefer said the survey indicates that online stores have a harder time making sales than their offline rivals.

"The myth is true: Competition is steeper on the Internet because it's easier to compare prices and check out the competition," Meierhoefer said.