NEW YORK — Improved customer service, timely deliveries and a growing sense of security about the submission of their personal data online have boosted Americans’ plans to spend in cyberspace this holiday season.

According to the Yahoo/AC Nielsen Internet Confidence Index released Monday, U.S. shoppers’ online buying plans for the fourth quarter are up 23 percent over holiday 2001 to approximately $19.6 billion. That figure would amount to online spending of $244 per shopper during the fourth quarter, up from $225 one year earlier.

The confidence index itself, a quarterly scale aimed at measuring cybershoppers’ confidence in Internet services and products, climbed 8 percent in the third quarter from prior-year levels to 113 points. Not surprisingly, those possessing broadband access to the ’Net had the greatest confidence, registering 156 on the index with planned online expenditures of about $287 on average. "The results show that broadband consumers are the most avid online consumers, indicating that e-tailers could see significant returns on their investments by targeting this demographic," said John Costello, Yahoo’s chief global marketing officer, in a statement released jointly by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo and New York-based AC Nielsen.

Also showing a greater-than-average confidence in the ’Net — and an anticipated propensity to exceed average spending online as a result — are consumers with a college education (averaging 144 on the index), as well as those ages 25 to 34 (at 151, the most confident group) and 45 and up (134).

One beneficiary of an upswing in online spending could be Bluefly Inc., the e-tailer of discounted designer brands, which reported Monday that George Soros, through Soros Private Equity Partners, had invested an additional $3 million in the firm, lifting his stake in the firm to 87 percent from 83 percent, excluding the potential effect of conversion of debt.

Bluefly issued $1 million of Series C convertible preferred stock and $2 million in promissory notes that mature in March 2003. The notes are convertible to preferred stock and the preferred stock can be converted into common stock, at the holder’s option, at a rate of 93 cents a share.

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