A new study by International Data Corp. (IDC) finds that a surge in the number of Americans using the Internet over the next several years will cause the demographics of the population to shift dramatically.
The report forecasts that 103 million users, cutting across age and economic lines, will make their first foray into cyberspace by 2004, boosting the total number of Americans online to 210 million.
“People from all walks of life and socioeconomic status will be online users, and online households will be much more like the average household than they are today,” said Barry Parr, director of consumer e-commerce research at IDC.
Although they might be newcomers, the sheer size of this new user base can translate into commercial clout. “The increase in the number of online users will mean that marketers who have in the past avoided online campaigns will need to embrace the Internet or lose out to the competition,” said Parr.
The report also bodes well for businesses who are just beginning e-commerce campaigns, Parr explained, as “changes and the growth in the online population mean there is still plenty of opportunity.”
Existing online merchants, however, may be forced to perform a strategic balancing act in drawing new customers from diverse backgrounds while maintaining their appeal to early adopters. Parr also cautions that Web portals should be especially mindful of new user loyalty, since many tend to stick with the first portal they can navigate with ease.
Burst in Number of Seniors Online
A breakdown of IDC’s figures reveals that adults 55 and older are currently the fastest-growing segment of online users across the U.S., and their numbers are predicted to more than triple from 11.1 million in 1999 to 34.1 million in 2004, accounting for 20 percent of all new users.
This data mirrors other recently published reports, which concluded that older users not only are making great strides in utilizing technology but also represent one of the highest rates of increase in computer ownership and Internet usage over the past couple of years.
Such findings bolster the argument that online marketers should step up their efforts to target older adults, which some observers regard as a largely untapped niche.
Many analysts also maintain that seniors may grow more open to changes in their commercial environment as they become more comfortable with the medium. According to a national survey commissioned by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), about half of Internet users age 45 and older said they comparison shop online and, of this group, 39 percent ultimately purchased something over the Internet.