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Around 6.3 million American shoppers are expected to spend the majority of their Christmas budget online this season.

This figure is up around 300 per cent on 1999, when 1.6 million punters in the US spent more than half their festive dollars on the Net. An estimated 35 million e-Santas will buy online this season, spending $11.6 billion, according to Media Metrix. This compares to last year's 20 million and $7 billion.

More surfers are already shopping online - in August 75 per cent of Net users visited e-tailers, already higher than last year's peak month of December.

Media Metrix has also stuck its neck on the line with predictions of what Americans will buy online - providing they can drag themselves away from the current election fiasco. It reckons a "surprisingly high number" of surfers will buy clothes or shoes online, though books, music and toys will remain the top purchases.

"While online shoppers are price-conscious, they will primarily be driven by the need to save time and avoid crowds this holiday season," said Ken Cassar, Jupiter Research senior analyst, who warned against e-tailers offering too many freebies.

"Merchants must balance consumers' desire for promotions and discounts while keeping an eye on their bottom line," he added.

Almost 80 per cent of e-shoppers are expected to spend at least ten per cent of their holiday funds online, while 18 per cent will get e-Chrimbo madness and blow more than 50 per cent. The most successful sites are expected to be those with traditional brick-and-mortar origins. ®

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