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E-tailers will end busy season a tad early

Attention last-minute shoppers: Though it's only Dec. 13, the end of the holiday season for online retailers is approaching faster than you think.

The holiday shopping season is nearing its end--at least for Internet merchants.

This time of year is typically the busiest for all retailers, both on the Web and off. But because of the added time it takes to ship goods to customers, many Web stores have to stop taking holiday orders several days earlier than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

On Christmas Eve, for example, many e-tailers simply cannot take holiday orders because the merchandise would not reach the customer in time. But for brick-and-mortar retailers, last-minute shoppers make Dec. 24 one of their busiest days.

This year, is telling customers that Friday is the last day that "standard shipping" will ensure goods arrive in time for Christmas. Saturday, Amazon customers will have to pay $3.99 extra for what it calls "Guaranteed Holiday Delivery."

The company is providing these dates in a chart on its site, which outlines the delivery deadlines for both Hanukkah and Christmas.

The Seattle-based company also said the last time to order for Christmas Eve delivery is Dec. 22 by noon PST.

But Amazon spokeswoman Ling Hong said the company has "several options" for those who run out of time.

"Customers can choose from among thousands of e-cards and attach an electronic gift certificate or order a magazine subscription before sending it to loved ones," she said.

One way Amazon may be able to stretch its holiday season is through its relationships with brick-and-mortar companies.

This week, Amazon and Circuit City launched a service that allows

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E-tailers hard hit by in-store bargains
Kate Delhagen, senior analyst, Forrester Research
Amazon customers to buy online and pick up the purchases at any one of 600 Circuit City stores nationwide.

Amazon and Borders said in April when they agreed to create a jointly run Borders Web site that they intended to launch a similar service. However, the two have not said when that will materialize., the e-commerce unit of Kmart, said Thursday that it is guaranteeing delivery by Christmas Eve for any goods ordered by Dec. 21.

Statements like these illustrate the amount of pressure Internet stores are under to deliver goods on time this year. In the past, scores of merchants eager to squeeze every nickel out of the holiday crush made promises to customers that they could not keep.

Some companies earned reputations for missing the all-important deadlines--a no-no during the holidays. The outcry was so bad it caught the attention of the U.S. government.

The Federal Trade Commission last year fined seven Internet retailers a total of $1.5 million for not delivering goods on time during the holidays.

This year, more than 70 companies were warned by regulators that they had better meet their deadlines or else suffer the same fate.