WEB WON'T RING WITH GIFT SHOPPING;STRONG SALES OUTLOOK PEGGED TO SOFTWARE, EVENT TIX

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Online retail sales this holiday shopping period should grow strongly, though most purchases won't be for gifts.

That's the outlook from Deloitte & Touche and other consultancies tracking consumer attitudes about digital commerce.

$141 MIL IN ONLINE SALES

Jupiter Communications claim-ed consumers spent $141 million in online sales last November and December, or about one-fourth of the year's $575 million online sales total. But most of these transactions were for travel, software and event tickets-the items most often bought in Internet purchases-rather than holiday gifts.

This year, Jupiter expects total Internet sales of $1.25 billion. That could mean holiday period sales will run as high as $306 million if, like last year, consumers spend one-fourth of that figure during November and December.

But despite the potential, both Deloitte and Jupiter analysts say the sales figures don't reflect spending for gifts but instead for consumer software/electronics and tickets for travel and events.

Deloitte estimates two-thirds of online sales are in these categories.

Internet shoppers will spend more overall on Christmas gifts than offline-only buyers, according to Deloitte's October phone survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers conducted with the National Retail Federation.

TOTAL SPENDING UP 12%

Deloitte expects total consumer holiday-season spending to be 12% higher-or $764 per person-this year, resulting in a 6% increase in total retail sales to $460 billion.

Only 13% of U.S. consumers use the Internet and 3% make purchases on it.

Internet shoppers spend an average of $877 on holiday gifts, with about 26%, or $225, happening online, said Diane Kutyla, manager-market research at Deloitte.

Top purchase categories online this Christmas, in order of popularity, will be software, music, apparel, sporting goods and toys, the survey projects.

While there are fewer women online than men, women are far more likely to buy than men, Ms. Kutyla said. Some 20% of male respondents and 31% of females asked said they made purchases online "frequently or often."

In addition, women Web shoppers will spend about 35% of their holiday budgets online this year, while men spend only about 20%.

Keith Arnold, general manager-online retailing at CompuServe, said merchants are in part responsible for the stagnant percentage of online spending on holiday gifts.

Last year, CompuServe had 165 merchants. But due to company restructuring and merchants discouraged by online sales' role in the big picture, it now only works with 100 partners, he said.

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