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E-tailers bring Christmas trees home

A handful of Web sites are selling Christmas trees and delivering them straight to the consumer's door.

Charlie Brown may have fared better if he could have shopped online for his Christmas tree.

A handful of Web sites are making this possible for holiday shoppers this season. Hardware.com and Garden.com are selling fresh Fraser fir and balsam fir Christmas trees, ranging in height from 5 feet to 8 feet tall, for delivery straight to the consumer's door.

As an alternative, Barrington, Ill.-based Tree Classics is selling artificial Arctic spruce, Norway fir and evergreen supreme trees that reach heights of up to 21 feet--and cost up to $3,000.

The sites are hoping to cash in on the flurry of online shopping that is already underway. Most industry analysts are expecting record sales online this season, as shoppers head online to buy toys, CDs and apparel.

But Christmas trees may be a tough sell online. Unlike Charlie Brown, customers can't wander the aisles to find the perfect tree; instead, they have to pick trees based on height and an often-rough digital image of what they look like.

And shoppers can't wait until the last minute, either. Hardware.com says customers should expect to wait up to eight days to receive their trees. Meanwhile, to ensure its trees get to customers on time, Garden.com says it won't accept any more orders after Dec. 8.

But Garden.com and Hardware.com promise to deliver fresh-cut trees direct to the doorstep--without delivery fees.

Company representatives say selling Christmas trees could be a good business this holiday season.

Dionn Schaffner, vice president of marketing for Garden.com, said the Austin, Texas-based company expects to sell about 2,000 trees this year, compared to the 700 trees it sold last year. This could entice other companies to sell trees as well, she said.

"Last year was a big success for us," Schaffner said. "I wouldn't be surprised if others are catching on as well."

Garden.com, which started selling trees online two years ago, sends its orders to a tree grower in North Carolina that ships the them directly to consumers.

Seattle-based Hardware.com, the online home-improvement company, launched its Web store earlier this year. It offers trees grown in New Hampshire by Weir Tree Farms.

Company chief executive Mike Picket said Hardware.com wants to help consumers that don't have much discretionary time and figured some of its customers would benefit from having Christmas trees delivered straight to their homes. The company could expand its holiday offerings next year, Picket said.

"Next year, we might even decorate [the trees]," he said. "Then you'd really have a turnkey offering."