Online shopping on rise this season

By Billy Corriher

Every year, more and more shoppers around the country are turning to the Internet to find the best deals for holiday gifts. Jonesboro resident Andrew Lane said he has been shopping online for years.

"It's a way to find good deals," he said. "Even if I don't buy it online, I'll at least shop around online before I buy it in the store."

Lane said he usually shops at popular sites like eBay and Amazon, where he recently bought the newest Harry Potter book for his niece.

"I'm definitely going to do some more browsing (on the Internet) before Christmas," Lane said.

Graham Mudd, an analyst for comScore Networks, Inc., a company that tracks online spending, said many customers are using the Internet to shop around before searching for the product in stores.

Nationwide, online sales are up 30 percent from last year to $2.16 billion, he said.

Mudd said the increase in online shopping is not only a result of the rebounding economy, but also of more people having access to the Internet, more retailers making their Web sites conducive to buying online, and more people being comfortable shopping online.

BizRate.com is a Web site that rates shopping sites based on customer reviews. One of its best-reviewed sites is www.bestpriceaudiovideo.com, which has been reviewed by more than 2,500 customers. BizRate.com offers advice on the best sites in different categories like home and garden, clothing and jewelry.

One of the highest rated sites for toys on BizRate.com is www.imaginethechallenge.com, which sells and reviews educational toys.

Consumer Reports suggests www.bluefly.com, www.gap.com, and www.landsend.com for online clothes shopping.

The organization also recommends popular vendors like www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.cdnow.com for books and music.

For toys, Consumer Reports suggests www.kbtoys.com and www.toysrus.com.

But well-known national shopping sites are not the only businesses that benefit from the increase in holiday online shopping.

Kay Knestrick has owned and operated K-Art Needlework in Riverdale since 1979. Three years ago, Knestrick set up a Web site to vend her embroidery and picture-framing service. Since going online, she has shipped orders all over the world.

"We've sent needlework to Europe and as far away as Dubai," she said.

In the past couple of months, she has received orders from holiday shoppers all over the country. Knestrick said online orders are now about 20 percent of her business.

"We've completely re-invented the way we do business," she said.

Knestrick said that her business can ship gifts in three to 10 days, depending on how fast the customer wants it and how far it has to go.

Consumer Reports suggests that online shoppers find out the estimated delivery time and ask about the cost of express shipping.

The organization also recommends checking the business' return policies. A business should give at least 45 days to return items and some will allow an online shopper to return or exchange the gift at one of their stores.

If shoppers order gift certificates, Consumer Reports says to make sure they're valid for at least six months.