By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website
This year, Christmas will fall on a Monday - 12 December to be exact. Well, at least for online retailers.
Like all other retailers they do their best business of the year in the run-up to Christmas, although for obvious reasons their shopping season peaks a week early.
Are you having fun doing your Christmas shopping?
After all it takes time to get presents from the virtual shop front to the real-world doorstep.
But there is one big difference: while most High Street retailers are gloomy, online retailing keeps on booming.
Yes, the UK boasts more selling floor space than ever before, but with interest rates up and consumer confidence down, growth rates are miniscule.
About 60% of UK retailers expect their sales to stagnate or fall this Christmas, suggests the Christmas Retail Survey 2005 compiled by Deloitte. That's up sharply from last year's figure of 35%.
In contrast, online shops can expect double-digit growth.
'People are coming online'
In the United States, research firms Comscore and eMarketer predict online sales will grow by a fifth to a quarter.
ONLINE SHOPPING HITS
Source: top searches on Kelkoo UK, 11/05
In the UK, where - compared to the US - online retail is still more of a toddler, growth could be more than 40%, e-retailer lobby group IMRG predicts.
Granted, overall numbers of online Christmas shoppers are still small.
According to the Deloitte survey, just 6% of UK consumers plan to do the bulk of their festive shopping online this year, but this is a 50% increase on 2004.
And while about half of us don't plan to use the internet for Christmas shopping at all, a year ago 67% said 'no' to online.
"This Christmas, people who shop online spend more, and people who never spent money online are coming online," says David MacDonald, head of retail advertising at Google UK.
Surprisingly, the heavy spenders are not the young but the 45-to-54 age group, according to the Deloitte survey.
And the numbers are adding up.
In the run-up to Christmas online sales will make up 9% of the UK total, says Deloitte. Lobby group IMRG is even more bullish, claiming that last year the sector accounted for 15% of spending.
Monday is shopping day
There is another important difference to bricks-and-mortar shopping.
"Mondays are always our biggest days," says Iggy Fanlo, president of field operations at price comparison website shopping.com. "And in the run-up to Christmas, the second Monday in December is always the biggest day."
SAFE ONLINE SHOPPING
Use secure websites that show a locked padlock or unbroken key on their payment pages
Don't leave your computer unsupervised while shopping online
Log out properly at end of a transaction
Never supply personal information via e-mail
Beware of 'phishing' emails that claim to be from your bank or lender
Check your bank and credit card statements regularly for fraudulent charges
But why Mondays?
People don't shop online over the weekend, says Mr Fanlo. "They do their research offline, in the shops, and on Monday when they are back in the office they go online and compare prices. We see two days of pent-up demand."
And there is another reason: speed. Despite the surge in broadband connections, says research firm Comscore Networks, most of the online shopping is still done in the office.
Consumer electronics giant Dixons, for example, expects its online sales to peak on the second Monday in December, says marketing director Chris Matthews.
The online shopping world depends on complex logistics
Logistics companies agree. Federal Express says 12 December will be its busiest day of the year, with about 8.5m packages going through its system worldwide.
"During the Christmas season online retailers ship two or three times what they would normally do," says Sarah Taylor, retail industry director at Oracle, which provides e-commerce software for online retailers like Amazon.
It works for small companies as well.
At Getethical.com, managing director Tony Cook expects to do a quarter of his annual trade in the four weeks between 15 November and 15 December, with the real peak during the first two weeks of December.
Traffic on his website will soar by 200% during that period, he says.
According to search engine giant Google, the three months leading up to Christmas will account 40% of annual online spending.
The need to be online
The real impact of the internet, however, is felt not just in virtual shopping baskets.
Some people research online, but shop in the real world; others touch and feel the product in the shops and then buy online.
The Christmas market feeling won't be had online
"Shoppers are not only planning to buy more online, but are also increasingly using the internet to research their purchases," say Deloitte's researchers.
Many companies are getting the drift.
More than two-thirds of retailers are convinced that they need a website to stand a chance in the Christmas business. Last year, just over half of them made the connection, according to Deloitte.
And there is another important driver for online shopping: search engines and comparison websites like shopping.com, Google's Froogle and Yahoo's Kelkoo.
Nearly 90% of UK online shoppers used search engines to find their gift of choice, according to a recent Media Screen survey.
As a result, traffic soars. At shopping.com, the last three months of the year accounts for nearly 40% of annual traffic.
And the searches convert into paid-for clicks.
In the run-up to Christmas "we see a 40% uplift in the number of clicks on adverts," says Google's David MacDonald.
Shopping.com's Iggy Fanlo reports similar numbers, with "conversion rates" up on average by about 50%.
Some of the top sellers are obvious: consumer electronics, video games, flat screen TVs.
But surprisingly the ultimate touchy-feely product, clothing, is delivering some of the biggest growth rates.
More and more women are now doing their shopping online, explains Mr Fanlo.
Of course, Christmas is not supposed to be about commerce.
But while products like the Xbox 360 and iPod rule the roost in online shopping, there is one consolation.
During December last year, plain old 'Christmas' was in the top three of Google's most-searched words.
Will you do your Christmas shopping online? Or are you worried about online security? Or do you prefer the personal service that only a shop can provide?
Below is a selection of the comments we received.
Absolutely. I'd rather do it online then face the nightmare of the xmas crush. And at least many online retailers tell you whether what you're after is in stock.
Shane Glass, winchester, hants
I think you need to be careful about online shopping, wherever possible deal with a well known trader with a good track record for security, and always read their terms & conditions on how they treat your data. I've done most of my Christmas shopping online. One great advantage is stock level indicators. Instead of enduring in-town parking, weather beaten queing and taking time off work to beat the rush I can check items are in stock and agree delivery details. No more humping shopping around town. Perfect
Jim mottau, worthing UK
I think you've missed a big reason why Internet shopping is on the rise, that being those miserable indiviuals who speculate on the popular toys in October so they can put them on eBay in November after they've exhausted high-street supplies. Just try finding a remote control Dalek anywhere!!! That's the true spirit of Christmas for you.
Last year I did every bit of my shopping on line and this year I will do the same. Sit back with a cup of tea and put the music on whilst doing the Christmas rush is far more civilized. This also means that when my wife and I go into the city we can just meander and enjoy a day out rather than some form of modern torture.
Mark Chisholm, Dereham, UK
I shop in shops as I am worried about security on the internet, plus in shops you can physically touch and view the items you are buying.
Kieran Delaney, Norwich, Norfolk, England
Of course I'll be doing my Christmas Shopping online.
No queues, no crowds, no opening hours. Do you need anymore reasons?
Plus, sticking to reputable retailers reduces the worries of online security.
Alan Donald, Elgin, Scotland
Although the prices can be much cheaper online, I am finding online shopping is not as convenient as one would expect - either they mess up your orders and it takes months before you get everything, or they won't deliver to the address you want, for whatever reason.
Dan Stevens, London, UK
One of the many reasons why I do almost all my shopping online is that high street shops these days seem to be staffed almost entirely by 14 year olds who do not have the first clue about the products they are selling.
Adam, London, UK
Yes I do on line shopping but I do worry about security as I'm so unsure who is being able to look in! So far, touch wood (monitor), the on line buying has been relatively trouble free.
Angie Wood, Canterbury Kent
With a full-time job and 2 young children, I find internet Christmas shopping essential. Browse toy catalogues at my leisure, order without queues or parking hassles, get it all delivered to work... Fantastic! And I have never had any online security problems.
Lisa T, Cambridge, UK
I shop on line because I can't stand the music they play in shops, especially at Christmas time.
Somebody screaming "Thank God it's Christmas" drives me out the shop.
Andy Franklin, Framlingham, Suffolk, England
Oh yes. Especially when it comes to the seasonal food and drink. The very thought of dragging a huge shopping basket around my supermarket of choice, filled to the brim with food and drink ... It's enough to make me book my Xmas delivery date today!
Peter H, Leeds, West Yorkshire
I do most of my shopping online. I would never buy clothes online because you have to try them on and it just is a hassle to return. But for decorative items or books online the internet is perfect. I don't worry about security with reputable companies. Personal service in a mall?? Hardly.
Kara Tyson, Mobile, AL USA