Tracking The Elusive E-Shopper

While research into online buying habits has revealed some consistent shopping patterns, not much has been said about the makeup of this army of online consumers.

Until now.

Newly released studies show a combination of predictable results and a few surprises. This year’s focus has been on cultivating masses of first-time shoppers, but Forrester Research reports that almost 90 percent of online shoppers have already “been there and done that.” Half of those surveyed bought gifts online as far back as last year.

Of the 8.6 million households surveyed in the study, only one million households say that they are new to Internet shopping.

Forrester also found that among the new shoppers, most do not trust the Internet enough to buy holiday gifts. Evidently, the survey respondents are not convinced that the purchases will arrive in time for the big day.

Shoppers Lack Diversity

While Forrester’s report may come as unwelcome news to many in the electronic commerce community, Scarborough Research studied the online shopping population and found that this year is “more of the same.” The masses of shoppers are found to be largely male, well-educated and have above-average incomes.

Nearly 60 percent of online shoppers are male, 70 percent attended college, and 65 percent have white-collar jobs. More than a third of those studied have household incomes of $75,000 (US$) or more.

For those e-tailers that are still studying the market for clues as to what buyers do when they are not buying, Scarborough has some answers. Forty-five percent attended a professional sporting event this year, 24 percent have health club memberships, 40 percent enjoy biking, 34 percent are involved in photography, and 52 percent are swimmers.

Such information may or may not indicate what type of products those surveyed are likely to purchase online.

The Great Wireless Hope

Scarborough’s sample was divided into three groups: Those who already shop online, those who use the Internet for non-shopping purposes, and those who have no access to the Internet. Of those who have already shopped online, 64 percent own cell phones. That single figure could bode well for the future of wireless e-commerce.

Further, 75 percent have bought products through direct mail. If opportunities are presented to that group to buy the same merchandise quickly and easily with their cell phone, they apparently are likely to give it a try.

Less Gloom And Doom

Despite Forrester’s findings, an AOL report done in conjunction with International Communications Research reveals that, of those who call themselves “Internet shoppers,” 75 percent will buy gifts online this year and 42 percent will do all of their holiday shopping online in the future.

Encouragingly, 78 percent of return shoppers said they planned to spend the same or more money online this year.

AOL’s study focused on users who were already familiar with online shopping, while Scarborough broadened its view to include various population segments.

This focus revealed that 72 percent of households with incomes of $50,000 or less have no Internet access. Evidently, lower income Americans are still at the mall, and luring them into the new electronic frontier may be challenging.

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