Analyst Jupiter Communications predicts online merchants will hit $141 million in sales during November and December, up 144% from the same period last year. But much of that will come from growth of the online population (online households grew 81% to 8.4 million this year), not a drive to buy more products via modem.
"Online commerce is currently dominated by products such as ticket booking...and hardware sales...as opposed to gift giving," said New York-based Jupiter.
Consumers aren't shopping much more this year, period. The National Retail Federation predicts consumer retail sales will grow by only 3% to $450 billion in 1995.
Unlike traditional retailers, which pull out all the stops for the holidays, online merchants aren't making a big deal.
Internet Shopping Network, one of the largest cyber-retailers, has a holiday shop, but so far traffic hasn't been much heavier than elsewhere on ISN.
"We've had record weeks in the past two months," said Bill Rollinson, VP-marketing and co-founder of ISN (http://www.internet.net), which sells computer products as well as toys, cameras and gift foods. "But that may have more to do with growth of the Internet than the holidays."
CompuServe expects to do about 25% of Electronic Mall sales during the last two months of this year, about the same as in '94, said Interactive Marketing Manager Regina Brady. That's in spite of the fact that the mall now has 165 stores, up from 130 last year.
Revenues at CyberShop, a new online mall offering products ranging from candy to electronics, will "absolutely mimic traditional retail" patterns this year, said Jeffrey Tauber, president of the Montclair, N.J., company (http://cybershop.com).
"We expect to do a minimum of 40% of our business during the season," Mr. Tauber said. More specifically, he expects online revenues of $100,000 between Oct. 15 and the end of the year.
Some merchants are expecting a boost in online sales after the holidays, when families boot up new computers.
Sales "might actually spike after the New Year," an America Online spokeswoman said.
But there are growing concerns about less than robust holiday PC sales.
There are signs, however, that online retail could eventually become a boon for holiday marketers.
An October survey from Kurt Salmon Associates, New York, reported 53% of 1,000 consumers surveyed plan to shop less at traditional stores this year, and 21% plan to shop more from home.
"There tends to be an exodus away from the traditional mall in the effort to save time," said Shawne Mastronardi, director-retail marketing services. "That's not only going to buoy the catalog retail business but also the online services during the holiday."