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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 11:31 GMT
Bumper Christmas for online shops
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

The festive season has started early for many online retailers.

Christmas tree, BBC
Shopping has started early this year
Early reports suggest that many consumers are not leaving their Christmas shopping until the last minute, instead many are turning to e-tailers to get their gift-giving going.

Forrester Research expects online shoppers in Western Europe to buy more than 9bn euros of goods (6.3bn) between 1 November and the Christmas closedown.

The final figure looks set to be 18% higher than 2002 reports Forrester and it expects that shoppers in the UK and Germany will be responsible for 63% of the spending spree.

Card caution

"It's been Christmas for a couple of weeks now," said Robin Terrell, Managing Director of Amazon UK.

Mr Terrell said many shoppers were spending more money online and many were now content to buy bigger items too.

In previous years people were happy to buy books, CDs and games online but now many were buying games consoles, DVD players and other household gadgets, he said.

"Broadband is helping too," he said, "we are seeing people spend more time online just browsing and looking around."

The rise in average spend is fuelled by the fact that shoppers are getting used to using their credit cards online and are less worried about fraud.

Scene from The Phantom Menace, Twentieth Century Fox
Providing a good online shopping service is like building robots in science-fiction films. It looks easy but it isn't
James Roper, IMRG
Initiatives such as Verified by Visa and others by the retailers were helping to cut fraud, said James Roper, head of the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) trade body.

He said many online shops had started swapping information in real-time about stolen cards being used, fraudulent transactions and where goods are being sent to in order to stop cards being abused widely.

But, said Mr Roper, the big problem that needed tackling was the fact that consumers were unhappy to spend money in online stores run by firms they did not know well.

He criticised government advice on safe net shopping which advised consumers to only buy from names they knew.

"That's insane," he said, "some of the worst experiences in online shopping we have seen have come from major retailers."

"Providing a good online shopping service is like building robots in science-fiction films," he said. "It looks easy but it isn't."

Customer care

To help people feel more confident about lesser-known names the IMRG has set up the Internet Shopping Is Safe (Isis) scheme that acts like an MOT for e-tailers.

Isis members have their sites and methods vetted by IMRG to ensure that they are legal, decent, honest and trustworthy. They must sign up to a code of practice and are regularly vetted to ensure they meet standards.

"Third-party verification is the key," said Mr Roper, "It's how you know they are who they say they are and that they know what they are doing."

The IMRG also acts as an ombudsman to sort out any problems that might occur.

Sony PlayStation 2 consoles, Sony
Consoles could be big this Christmas
The trade group has also set up an e-Christmas site that acts as a gateway to the sites of what it considers to be some of the best online retailers such as Dabs, iwantoneofthose, Littlewoods Extra, Kelkoo and lingerie firm Fig Leaves.

"This year the industry has grown up," he said, "there's a big raft of players out there that will give a consistently excellent service."

Mr Roper said that in the early days of online shopping it was thought that the e-tailers would steal all the business of their bricks and mortar rivals.

No-one thinks that is likely to happen now, he said, but he did expect online shopping to account for almost one-third of all shopping within three years.

"It's going to become more about me and the shops than it is about me and the shop's location," he said.

Will Amazon please in 2004?
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10 Nov 03  |  Business
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20 Nov 03  |  Technology
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21 Nov 03  |  Business
E-Commerce set for Xmas bonanza
18 Nov 03  |  Business

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