Online sales may zoom during holidays

Jupiter Research calls for a merry shopping season, predicting a boost in Web sales to $17 billion.

Retail sales over the Internet are set to grow this holiday season as more new buyers use online channels and consumers gain more confidence using credit cards over the Net.

A report released by Jupiter Research on Thursday predicted that holiday retail sales over online channels will reach $17 billion, a 21 percent jump over the same period in 2002. Nearly 40 percent of online users intend to do some or all of their holiday shopping online, an increase of 18 percent from last year.

Books and clothing continue to be high on consumers' buying lists, but music, the traditional favorite of online buyers, has been replaced by toys.

The research firm attributed the projected surge in online sales to factors including more online buyers and greater confidence among buyers. The number of consumers who rank credit card security as a hurdle has decreased from 47 percent last year to 36 percent this year. Half of the consumers surveyed said they prefer online shopping because it is easier to find hard-to-locate products on the Net.

"Given the short selling season and the highest projected online holiday sales volume ever, online retailers stand to gain or lose a great deal by anticipating consumers' last-minute shopping needs," Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst at Jupiter Research, said in a statement.

"Because consumers' primary concerns about buying gifts online center on shipping and delivery, retailers who fulfill orders on time, even very late in the buying season, stand to garner high loyalty points with holiday shoppers."