STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We are still waiting to see how the tough economic times will affect the holiday shopping season. The season is now in full swing. And today is so-called Cyber Monday. This concept began years ago at a time when many people only had high-speed Internet connections at work. So holiday shoppers would wait until Monday to begin their online shopping in earnest. Today, many people can shop online any time from home and e-commerce is one of the economy's bright spots. We have more from NPR's Wendy Kaufman.
WENDY KAUFMAN: It's almost impossible to talk about online retail without talking about Amazon.com, the world's largest online seller. And this time of year the company's gift wrappers are extremely busy.
Ms. JESSICA CARMICHAEL (Gift wrapper, Amazon.com): Scan the items, measure it up, make sure it's evened out.
KAUFMAN: Like other experienced speed wrappers at shipping centers around the country, Jessica Carmichael turns out fully dressed packages in less than two minutes.
Ms. CARMICHAEL: Put the ribbon on, get your gift card, get your envelope, and put it back on the cart.
KAUFMAN: The facility where Carmichael works just outside Phoenix is huge, about the size of 14 football fields. It's filled with books, DVDs, toys, and lots of other stuff. And this site is one of more than 20 U.S. facilities that Amazon calls fulfillment centers. Today, Cyber Monday is a huge online shopping day, but not the biggest. That will likely be in mid-December. Amazon vice president Craig Berman says on the busiest day last year, the company shipped 5.6 million items.
Mr. CRAIG BERMAN (Vice President, Amazon.com): It's a really big number. Now that's worldwide. So, that's at all our fulfillment centers. But, you know, that - that shows a lot of customers were getting their shopping done online.
KAUFMAN: Amazon alone boasts nearly 100 million active buyers, and overall online sales have been growing steadily. This year, they're expected to top $150 billion. And what are people buying? Amazon's answers may surprise you.
Mr. BERMAN: Susan Boyle is still the number one best-selling CD right now.
(Soundbite of song �I Dreamed a Dream�)
Ms. SUSAN BOYLE (Singer): (Singing) But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.
KAUFMAN: Boyle gained instant fame earlier this year after appearing on the TV show �Britain's Got Talent.� And what else does Craig Berman see on the current bestseller list.
Mr. BERMAN: In toys, there is this...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BERMAN: I love the surprises that we get in - with the hot toys. So far this year, one of the hottest toys is the Zhu Zhu pet hamster. They're just little soft hamsters, and each has a name. Right now, Mr. Squiggles is the third best-selling item in our toy store.
KAUFMAN: The allure of shopping from Mr. Squiggles or anything else online is well known. It's convenient, the selection and price comparisons are practically limitless, and the prices themselves are often the best around. Online has come a long way since Amazon burst on the scene in the mid-1990s. Sucharita Mulpuru, of Forrester Research reminds us that back then the Internet wasn't widely used in commerce.
Ms. SUCHARITA MULPURU (Analyst, Forrester Research): And the types of transactions that were conducted on the commercial Internet back then were things like porn or gambling. So, for Amazon to come along and say, hey, we can actually sell you a book or, you know, a CD. That was actually a pretty astounding proposition.
KAUFMAN: What's more, she says, Amazon got consumers comfortable with providing their credit card information online. Today, online marketers have reams of information about you. They use that along with neuro-marketing techniques developed from brain research to personalize your shopping experience and make it more tantalizing.
Deborah Mitchell of the University of Wisconsin Business School says impulse buying and emotional buying are often more common online than off.
Professor DEBORAH MITCHELL (Consumer Psychology, University of Wisconsin Business School): Consumers believe, they know marketers are trying to influence them in the bricks and mortar store. But there's this feeling on the part of many consumers that when they're online, they have a lot more control than they really do.
KAUFMAN: So, here's her advice. Before you go online, make a shopping list and set a time limit. It just might keep you from overspending online this holiday season.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.
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