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Study: Consumers throttling back on e-tail purchases

For the week ended Dec. 3, online sales rose only 50 percent year over year, down from a jump of 140 percent the week before, says a PC Data survey.

Consumers' e-tail excursions have lost some momentum in what had been looking like a well-tuned holiday shopping season.

For the week ended Dec. 3, online sales rose only 50 percent year over year, down from a jump of 140 percent the week before, indicating a slowdown as Christmas approaches, according to a PC Data survey commissioned by Goldman Sachs and released Monday.

The numbers show a gradual increase week to week, "rather than the jump we experienced the same time last year," said Cameron Meierhoefer, an analyst with PC Data.

"People are cautious this year," he said. "They are doing more shopping earlier on in the season than before."

Last year, the Internet was seen as the medium of the immediate, Meierhoefer said. Inspired by quick delivery of news and music over the Internet, consumers believed they could order something online and get the goods right away. But through last season's hard lessons in delayed service, system glitches and traffic jams on popular e-tailer sites, consumers learned that scheduled shopping and keeping track of shipping deadlines could make for an easier and more reliable online shopping experience.

So the latest numbers may not be a harbinger of a sales drought. "I don't think this necessarily means the sector is cooling off," Meierhoefer said. "Instead, it shows consumers are learning" different ways to shop online.

Meierhoefer said he expects another jump in online shopping in the week of Dec. 17 as shoppers look to finish up their shopping with time enough before Christmas to make sure gifts end up under the tree on time.

The PC Data survey follows earlier research that showed a robust holiday shopping season on the horizon. Researchers Jupiter Media Metrix and Gartner, along with PC Data, reported data indicating the most successful holiday season ever for e-commerce Web sites. The information was music to the ears of e-tailers, many of whom are reeling from a shakeout that is forcing numerous companies out of business.

But this online shopping season also has seen its share of glitches. Online e-tailing giants and Best Buy both experienced periodic outages in the first few days following Thanksgiving.