REDMOND,Wash。

December7,1998Treeshavelosttheirleaves,frostisontheground,andAmericanseverywhereareturningtooneofthisseasonsfavoritepastimesshopping。

Whilemanyareoutbravingthecrowdsattheirlocalshoppingmall,moreandmoreconsumersareturningtotheInternetandtheconvenienceofonlineshopping。

AccordingtoindustryanalystCyberDialogue,electroniccommercereachedrecordlevelslastyear,with11。

2millionshopperspurchasing$3。

3billionworthofgoodsonline。

Whatsdrawingalltheseshopperstovirtualstorefronts?

MarketresearchshowsthatconsumerstendtouseInternetshoppingfortwospecificpurposes:productinformationandresearch,andactualproductpurchasing。

Ofthesetwocategories,informationseekersrepresentthelargestdemographicofonlineshoppers,with29。

5millionwiredadultsusingtheInternettosearchforproductinformationlastyear。

ProductInformationandResearch

Travel-relatedsitesleadtheinformationandresearchcategoryinconsumerpopularity,withmorethan15millionusersvisitingtravelsitesin1997。

MSNExpediaMicrosoftstravelWebSitehosts3。

5millionuniqueuserspermonth,andiscurrentlyaveragingaround$8。

5millionperweekinsales。

Convenienceplaysalargeroleintravelconsumersdecisiontoshoponline。

LindaDominguez,abusyexecutivewhotravels2or3timesamonth,findsthattheconvenienceofresearchingandbookinghertravelonlineworksbestwithherhecticschedule。

Expediaseemstolowertheirpricesprettyquickly,generallyseemstohavethebestprices,anddoesareallygoodjobofkeepingupwithchangingtravelinformation,shesaid。

Idonthavetimetofoolaround。

Dominguezrecentlyplannedatriptovisitherson,andmadeallofherarrangementsonline。

Igoteverythingair,hotel,andcar,anditsalltakencareof。

Fortravelersmoreinterestedingettingawayfromitall,Expediaoffersone-stoptravelshoppingforcruises,vacationpackages,resorts,andotherpopularvacations。

Travelerscanresearchtheirtrip,makehotelreservations,andpurchasetheirtravelticketsallinonestep。

Andbasedonthesitespopularity,growth,andsalesforecasts,thefuturelooksbrightforMSNExpedia。

Thesiteexperienceda400percentgrowthinsalesfromJanuary1997toJanuary1998。

Iftravelpurchasesarepopular,automobilepurchasesdontlagfarbehind。

Lastyear,nearlyathirdofInternet-connectedadultswentonlinetoresearchcarinformation。

WhenBrianJohnsondecidedhewantedtobuyasportutilityvehicleearlierthisyear,heusedMSNCarPointsautomobilereviewstoresearchdifferentvehiclesadvertisedintheSundaypaper。

Johnsonsortedvehiclesbypricerange,researchedspecsandpricing,andsavedhimselfagooddealoflegworkintheprocess。

Thewholeprocesswasmoreconvenient,moreup-to-date,moretimely,andmoreaccurate,Johnsonsaid。

Fornew-andused-carbuyersalike,theCarPointsitehostsawealthofinformationresources,includingspecson10,000differentmakesandmodels,bluebooklistings,surroundvideo,andgraphicsfeatureslikethecolorizerthatletsusersviewacarinitsavailablecolors。

Thesitesconsistentlyhighratings,consumerconvenience,andeasy-to-usefeaturesarepayingoff。

Thisyear,CarPointisaveraging1。

7millionuniqueuserspermonth,84millionhits,andsalesofmorethan$300millionpermonthforCarPointsaffiliateddealers。

AnotherMSNsite,MSNSidewalk,isgearedtowardhelpingusersorganizeshoppingresourcesontheWeb,withfeaturesliketheSidewalkBuyersGuidethatprovidesproductinformationandreviewstohelpshoppersmakeinformeddecisions。

ConsumerscanthenconsulttheMSNSidewalkYellowPagesdirectorytofindanearbystore,onlinemerchant,ortoll-freenumberstohelpthemmaketheirpurchasesviaphone。

Anentertainmentguidefeaturesmovies,restaurants,andthingstodo,alltailoredtotheusersspecificcity。

ProductPurchases

Othersitesaresetupmorelikevirtualshoppingmalls,includingMSNShopping,whichorganizesvendorsintocategoriesandoffersusersonlineaccesstoawideselectionofmerchantstorefronts。

Computersandsoftwareisourmostpopularcategory,andthenrightnowitsalsoskewedtowardallthegifts,saidDeborahLevinger,Sr。

BusinessManagerforMSNShopping。

Ourstrongcategoriesarecomputersandsoftware,books,music,flowers,apparel,andtoys。

Levingersaiditsstilltooearlytoreleasespecificfigures,butthesitesusehastakenoff;traffichastripledsinceitslaunchinOctober。

Shesaidtwofactorscanaccountforthesitesriseinpopularity。

Overall,MSNhasanaudiencethatsverycomfortableshoppingonline。

Ourusersarealreadycomfortablebeingonline,sotheyrealsomorewillingtoshoponline。

And,atthisbusytimeofyear,MSNshoppingprovidesfast,easy,convenientsolutions。

ArecentlyaddedfeaturecalledHolidayGiftFinderhelpsuserstailortheirshoppinglistbasedonseveralcategories,includingpricerange,age,andshoppingcategory。

Onlineshoppingshugegainsinpopularityarenotsurprising,consideringthegrowingnumbersofAmericansconnectingtotheInternet。

Lastyear,morethan41millionAmericanshadonlineaccess。

Expertspredictthat45percentofU。

S。

adultswillbeonlinebytheyear2002,andonlinecommercewillsurpass$34billion。

TheMicrosoftshoppingsitesreflectthisupwardtrendinonlineconsumerismaccordingtoInternetaudiencemeasurementserviceMediaMetrix,MSNwasthefastestgrowingportalsitein1998,reachingapproximately40percentofallU。

S。

Internetusers。

SinceMicrosoftrolleditsInternetservices,includingExpedia,CarPoint,andMSNShoppingintooneportalsiteearlierthisyear,referraltraffichasincreasedsignificantlyashighas221percentinthecaseofMSNExpediaandcontinuestoshowsignsofastrongfuture。

Advertisingrevenuehasincreasedmorethan100percentoverthesamequarterayearago,andMSNrecentlysignedsomeofthelargestadvertisingdealsontheInternet,worthnearly$160million。

Acrossthenetwork,MSNisestablishingsignificantbusinesspartnershipstoboostonlineshoppingresources。