Notice! Update the spam software because the surge has begun for online sites to begin holiday season advertising.

In September, Forrester Research indicated that online sales would represent a growth of 21 percent from the $27 billion sales last year to $33 billion from Thanksgiving to Christmas this year.

Hanukkah begins the night of the Dec. 16. Christmas is the 25, as always, and Kwanza starts the 26.

And online merchants are ready. They have made shopping more convenient than in the past to attract the public. Many offer free shipping, gift wrapping, and guaranteed delivery times.

Everything imaginable can be purchased from exquisite luxury items, novelties, and even a star named for that special recipient. According to Catalogs.com., gift certificate sales have increased, and they aren't just for regular gifts. Any item on a wish list can now be turned into a gift card purchase. Charities are listed as ideas, as well as trees to be planted in the receiver's name.

CNN Money reports that major chains are also in the hunt for new customers in cyberspace. J.C. Penney.com showed the most improvement during the 2006 season, edging out Sears. Business Week stated the once failing Penney's began its online store in 1994 with only one item, the Power Ranger. Perseverance paid off. Its 2006 online sales topped out at $1.3 billion.

Search engines offer thousands of sites for shopping with links to hundreds more. The ideas are almost endless for anyone to find something for those who have everything. Some sites provide “shopping gurus” for those requiring extra assistance.

Online merchants state that there are advantages to this kind of buying. Bargain hunting and comparison shopping are easier than traveling back and forth to competitors for the best prices. Merchandise sales are regular occurrences online. Shoppers can leave their computers and return to gift searches anytime 24-7. And it certainly reduces hours in traffic and crowds in the malls.

Online merchants caution shoppers to buy from credible merchants and look for the security symbol on the ordering form page before providing a credit card number.

Locally, J.C. Penney's manager Doug Long said that online shopping has no negative results for the store's business.

“It doesn't hurt because of the in-store capability,” Long said. “There is accessibility right on each check-out's register to go straight to J.C. Penney.com for any merchandise not available in the store.”

He said that once the item is ordered on site, it can be delivered directly to the customer's door.

“Also,” Long said, “there are no housewares available in our Stephenville store, but customers may order them though us for their convenience, rather than traveling to another location.”

Shop online, or locally, early and be done with it! Then, browse the malls to enjoy the sights and sounds of the holidays.

SHERRY BOARDMAN is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune and can be reached at sherry.boardman@empiretribune.com or 254-965-3124, ext 229.