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Net holiday shopping figures slip down the stretch

Online holiday shopping is starting to cool as some consumers are logging off their computers and heading to the malls for last-minute gifts, according to a study.

Online holiday shopping is starting to cool as some consumers are logging off their computers and heading to the malls for last-minute gifts, according to a new study.

During the week ended Dec. 17, about 63 million visits were made to online stores, about a 7 percent drop from the 68 million made the week before, according to a report released Thursday by Nielsen/NetRatings, a company that tracks Internet traffic.

The drop-off in site traffic came during the same week that many e-tailers stopped taking orders for holiday gifts. Most of them stopped taking orders last week for fear that goods would not arrive in time for the holidays. Delivering merchandise to customers promptly and inexpensively has been the Achilles' heel of e-commerce.

"We had anticipated that e-tailer assurances of on-time delivery and ample product supply would encourage more shoppers to go online in this last week," said Sean Kaldor, vice president of e-commerce at Nielsen/NetRatings. "But with Sunday's traffic down 23 percent from the prior week, the wind-down has definitely begun."

But there is news for e-tailers to get excited about, according to fulfillment-measuring company Bizmetric. The San Francisco-based company found that on Dec. 18, seven days before Christmas, $254 million was spent online, compared with the $145 million that was spent online the same day a year ago.

And as for getting goods to customers' doors, many e-tailers improved their speed, Bizmetric said.

The average time it took between when an e-tailer took an order and when it arrived in the customer's hands was about four days during the week ended Dec. 3, Bizmetric said in a separate study.

Among the swiftest companies to ship were retailers Outpost.com, which averaged two days and 10 hours; Walmart.com, which averaged three days and 13 hours; and Amazon.com, which averaged five days and 15 hours.

Web merchants tripped over fulfillment during last year's holiday season. The worst manifestation of that came when the Federal Trade Commission fined several online companies, such as Toysrus.com, Macy's.com and CDNow, for not warning customers of potential shipping delays.