SIKESTON -- Several consumers are letting a little mouse do their holiday shopping this year. That's right, a couple clicks from the mouse of their computer, and voila! Christmas shopping is done.
Suzanne Urhahn is one of those consumers.
"So far everything I've gotten for Christmas this year has been from the Internet," Urhahn said.
Urhahn admits she will probably purchase some items from regular stores, but like the majority of Internet shoppers, she uses the Internet simply for its convenience.
Internet shopper Shannon Peters agreed. "It's so much faster to use the Internet. You don't have to fight the crowds and it's easier to find things. I can always find what I need on the Internet," she said.
And there's no worrying about making it in time before stores close or getting there too early before they open. "I can shop at midnight in my home if I want to," Urhahn said.
Consumer online sales, not including travel sales, for the first three quarters of 2002 reached $9.8 billion, up 30 percent over the same period last year, according to Web.Net market research firm comScore. Fourth quarter sales, including the holiday season, are projected to total $13.8 billion, up 27 percent from last year.
Many Web sites are also stores you can find in malls, such as Gap, Old Navy, Barnes and Noble, Target, Toys "R" Us and Best Buy.
Urhahn has ordered discounted household items from a home store site, clothes from the GAP and items from specialty sports stores this Christmas.
Peters has already bought several items off the Internet from Old Navy, CD Now, Toys "R" Us and LTD this Christmas season.
Tom Hedrick is a veteran Internet shopper. He's purchased many items off the Internet, and he has no complaints.
"I've ordered hundreds of items off the Internet since at least the mid-1990s, and have never had a problem with my credit cards or shipping," Hedrick assured.
Hedrick tends to purchase technical items and has bought computer/electronic items for Christmas gifts this year from places like Staples and Buy.Com, he said.
Hedrick's wife also likes to buy from the Internet. "She buys lots of stuff, usually from QVC. She works during the day and checks their Web site at night to see if there's any bargains," he said.
The fastest growing major merchandise categories for the same cumulative period (Nov. 1 through week ending Dec. 9) versus last year are: home and garden, up 72 percent to $328 million; sports and fitness, up 67 percent to $153 million; and jewelry and watches, up 66 percent to $121 million, according to comScore.
Some issues to consider when choosing a Web site to order from are the company's stock and inventory, sales and clearance, returns and shipping, customer online service, online features and experience comparison.
Peters thinks there's a bigger item selection or about the same -- but no less-- on the Internet versus regular stores. Most of the items she's ordered this year have had free shipping and she's even encountered sales on many of the Web sites.
The only downfall of purchasing from the Internet is not actually seeing the item in person, both Peters and Urhahn said. But most of the time, pictures of the item are available, they said.
Not everything is cheaper on the Internet, but some things are, Hedrick noted.
Neither Hedrick, Peters or Urhahn worries about safety issues or shipping problems when ordering online. They all said using reputable Web sites is the key.
"Make sure to use Web sites or companies you are familiar with that are secured," Peters advised.
Some people use credit cards that have fraud built-in insurance and others use credit cards that are about to expire, Hedrick said. There's a card that uses a unique number for each purchase, he added.
"I like using the Internet, and I think more and more people are using it," Peters said. "If I can't find it in the store, then it's on the Internet. Sometimes you may have to pay a little more for it, but at least you can get it."
Before making a purchase over the Internet, consider the following tips:
* Check on the company's reliability and the firm's customer experience record by visiting www.stlouis.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
* Do find out where a company is physically located to help avoid overseas or offshore scams.
* Don't rely on a professional looking Web site as proof of a company's quality or good reputation.
* Never give out your bank account number, credit card number or personal information unless you're certain a company is legitimate.
* Pay for your purchases by credit or charge card, which can be protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
* Start with a small, inexpensive purchase to see how the company handles your order.
* Find out about a company's return and refund policies before you purchase.
Source: Better Business Bureau and Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, LLC