Why shop online

Crowded stores, hard to find parking and long checkout lines. Feeling frustrated? Then, why don't you try online shopping? Half of the US is already doing it!
 
This year, because of a number of economic headwinds, a slumping housing market, a credit crunch and higher food and fuel prices, consumers have become more frugal about spending and retail stores have been struggling.
 
Analysts in the United States fear that this holiday shopping season will be the weakest in five years.
 
But online sales continue to be strong, proving that more and more consumers now prefer internet shopping over going to their local high street.
 
The research firm, Forrester Research, predicts US online sales of $33 billion this holiday season, up 21 percent from a year ago. The internet research company comScore Inc. projects a 20 percent online sales growth for the holiday season across America.
 
New York City has been flooded this holiday season with European tourists who want to take advantage of the weak dollar. Bea Peters, visiting from Berlin, Germany, said she still enjoys the social experience of shopping in person.
 
"It's stressful definitely, you have millions of people, but I love this feeling to go home with I don't know, a hundred bags and this is just belonging to Christmas somehow. And online you just don't have this beautiful feeling of having something new," said Peters.
 
Standard and Poor's Marie Driscoll, a retail equity analyst, said "internet shopping is growing considerably faster than retail as a whole."
 
"Some of the specialty apparel retailers I follow, are reporting e-commerce gains of 40 to 100% on a monthly basis... So the internet is definitely capturing a larger share of their customer's dollar," she added.
 
Driscoll argues that today's consumer has become more at ease with online technology, whereas 10 years ago many weren't comfortable giving out personal information, like credit card details, over the internet.
 
The National Retail Federation has noted that even though more than half of U.S. homes now have high-speed Internet access, a growing number of office workers feel more comfortable shopping online at work. 
 
Shopping
This year, according to a survey conducted for Shop.org, the online arm of the NRF, 54.5 percent of office workers with Internet access, or 68.5 million people, are expected to shop for holiday gifts from work, up substantially from 50.7 percent in 2006. 
 
But some analysts say one problem of shopping online, whether at home or at work, is that it distracts people from focusing on more important tasks.
 
Bruce Mcelroy who works for a web design firm in Dallas, Texas, admits he does shop at work, but says it usually isn't a problem.
 
Another plus for the online retail market is its distribution centres.
 
Brick-and-mortar outlets have to pay real estate costs to display their merchandise in person, whereas online sites can display many items all on a single web page.
 
Even with retail store sales in a slump this year, it's unlikely that all shoppers will turn solely to the internet for their holiday needs.
 
Some shoppers in New York City admit they turn to online shopping when time is a factor, but still enjoy going out to the stores and seeing the merchandise close-up.
 
But as busy New York mother Liz Ehrlich says, online shopping does continue to have its advantages.
 
"It's easier. I have two little kids, it's so much easier to plan ahead and get it all sent. And you can get so much more online, I mean you can get almost anything" says Ehrlich.
 
- Contributed by Ankita Sinha