U.S. News

Online Shopping Goes Beyond Electronics

Tara Siegel Bernard

For online shoppers, it's not just about electronics anymore.

Consumers are now buying Ugg boots, sweaters and other personal items, too.

“Online shopping is looking much more like off-line shopping every year,” said Rob Goldman, general manager of U.S. business at Shopping.com, an online comparison shopping website owned by eBay . “In the late nineties, we saw most of items were electronics and computer items and our consumers were largely male.”

Today, the demographics of web shoppers mirror the demographics of the country in general. “And we’re seeing that softer categories like home and garden items, clothing items, and health and beauty items are among the fast growing,” Goldman told CNBC's Sue Herrera on "Power Lunch."

Several of the ten most popular products on Shopping.com are clothing items, such as Ugg boots for women and children. “We still have lots of video game products and electronic items in the top 50, but they are just increasingly mainstream,” Goldman added.

Monday Traffic Surges

The second Monday in December is fast becoming one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. This year was no exception: Shopping.com said traffic on Monday was up 46% from last year.

“Customers are responding to the value that online shopping offers which is saving time and money at a very busy time of the year,” Goldman told CNBC. “They are increasingly comfortable with trusting online merchants and trusting that items will arrive in time for the holidays.”

Online holiday sales are on track to reach $32 billion for 2006, up about $5 billion, or 18% to 20%, from last year, according to Jupiter Research, a New York-based market research firm.

Not only are more consumers migrating to the web, but they're also shifting more of their spending online. The average holiday shopper is expected to spend $281 on the Web this year, up from $251 last year, according to Jupiter.

Convenience also outweighs other factors, such as gas prices, in encouraging shoppers to use the Internet.

This is expected to be the busiest shopping week online, with the heaviest day approaching $700 million in sales, according to ComScore Networks, a market research firm in Reston, Va.

Online Spending Higher

Thus far into the holiday shopping season, total online retail spending has reached $15.6 billion, up 25% from the prior year, according to ComScore Networks.

Online sales usually taper off after this week, as consumers begin to fret about whether their shipments will arrive on their doorsteps in time for the holidays. However, overall sales are expected to peak on Dec. 23rd, as procrastinating consumers take advantage of an extra shopping day and deeper discounts, according to Visa USA. Christmas lands on a Monday this year, providing shoppers with an extra shopping day.

Among those generating the highest online sales, some retailers are generating growth rates in excess of 50%, led by BestBuy.com and Ticketmaster.

Retailers should also prepare for a post-holiday surge in web traffic, said Patti Freeman Evans, a senior retail industry analyst at Jupiter.

"Retailers should plan to have not only seasonal markdowns available after the holidays, but also new products at full price and high margin to take advantage of customers who want new merchandise after a long holiday season and those who are redeeming gift cards," she said.