More Online Holiday Shopping Expected This Year

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'Black Friday' shoppers grab merchandise at a Target store in Hobart, Ind., in 2006. i

"Black Friday" shoppers grab merchandise at a Target store in Hobart, Ind., in 2006. A survey of 1,000 shoppers suggests online sites — unlike brick-and-mortar retailers — can expect sales to increase 12 percent from last year. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
'Black Friday' shoppers grab merchandise at a Target store in Hobart, Ind., in 2006.

"Black Friday" shoppers grab merchandise at a Target store in Hobart, Ind., in 2006. A survey of 1,000 shoppers suggests online sites — unlike brick-and-mortar retailers — can expect sales to increase 12 percent from last year.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

There should be plenty of bargains this holiday shopping season — if you have money to spend. Because of the weak economy, analysts expect retail sales to be way down from last year. But one bright spot may be the Internet, as a tool to help you find or buy those bargains.

Several Web sites focus on deals for "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. Mike Riddle runs Black-Friday.net, posting leaked Black Friday ads in advance. (And you thought only whistle-blowers leaked documents.)

"Some of the retailers actually send us the ads," Riddle says. "The majority come from people in the printing press. They actually steal a copy of the ad, and they go home and scan it and send an e-mail to us."

There's no pay for such leakers, says Riddle, who has run the site as a hobby for three years. He says Web traffic to his site starts about two days before Thanksgiving and drops to nothing by the week after. His income comes from the Google ads on his site and not from retailers, Riddle says. In fact, he adds, companies sometimes send him threatening letters to take down their ads — which he does.

This year, stores want customers as soon as possible. So, Riddle says, the sales already have begun. The ads tell him which items retailers are pushing. Along with GPS directional devices, "laptops and Blu-ray DVD players are really big this year," he says.

That doesn't mean those items will sell, of course. If the Thanksgiving holiday doesn't meet retailers' expectations, expect more markdowns.

"Retailers will be desperate to make sure they are not left with too much inventory," says Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research. "So I think we could see some really good sales much earlier than Christmas Day."

A Forrester survey of 1,000 shoppers suggests that online sites — unlike brick-and-mortar retailers — can expect sales to increase 12 percent over last year, Mulpuru notes. She says it's because online sites offer convenience, selection and increasingly better service. And during the holidays, free shipping has become the norm.

Mulpuru advises consumers to check with a competitor if a selected retailer doesn't offer free shipping. "Or you can probably just wait," she adds.

Online shopping does have at least one hitch. As credit card companies lower spending limits and consumers take on less debt, traditional retailers are reporting more cash and debit card sales. Online, you pretty much have to use a credit card.

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