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Reports Paint Profile of an Internet Shopper

By Ken Cimino E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Jul 13, 2001 4:45 PM PT

The profile of the typical online shopper is changing. In 1996, the typical Internet user was young, relatively wealthy and male.

Reports Paint Profile of an Internet Shopper

However, over the past five years, use of the Internet has spread over different demographics, signifying the importance of the Internet to mainstream marketing and advertising directed to everyday consumers.

In a study released Thursday, InsightExpress, a Web-based marketing research firm, said that the profile of the average adult American using the Internet now closely resembles the profile of the average American.

Although Internet users still have a slightly higher average household income than the average person in the overall population, according to the report, the profile of the average Web user is much closer to the profile of the average American than it was five years ago.

"Our research shows the online population looks more like the general population over time," InsightExpress chief operating officer Lee Smith told the E-Commerce Times. "This is great news, because it provides an enormous opportunity for companies to reach a greater amount of consumers."

Online, Offline

For example, in 1996, the online population was 62 percent male and 38 percent female, according to InsightExpress. This year, the online population is 49 percent male and 51 percent female, reflecting the same ratio of male-to-female listed in the overall population breakdown in the 2000 U.S. Census.

Likewise, in 1996 the average household income for the online population was US$62,700, while in 2001 it is $49,800, a figure within a few dollars of the average household income for the general population in the 2000 U.S. Census.

"The most common criticism of the Internet as a marketing vehicle is that it does not reach the average consumer," Smith said. "Our profile of the online consumer should silence that notion as it demonstrates the online consumer is now very similar to the average American."

Slicing the Pie

Despite the close similarities between Internet users and the population at large, marketing to Net users is not a simple proposition. A recent Brigham Young University study suggested that consumer e-commerce sites need to rethink marketing strategies when targeting e-shoppers.

According to the study's authors, William R. Swinyard and Scott M. Smith, e-tailers need to focus marketing efforts by identifying specific groups of online consumers. The BYU study is different than the InsightExpress research, however, because it does not focus on demographics such as income and age.

Smith said his BYU study showed how understanding consumer attitudes can help companies predict the likelihood that marketing efforts aimed toward a particular group of people will be worthwhile.

"In this study, we track not only the actual amount of online purchasing people do, we profile individuals using a broad variety of computer literacy and lifestyle variables directed at understanding the psychology of online shopping," said Smith.

The Brigham Young study defined Internet surfers according to these eight categories:

  • Shopping Lovers - people who shop online frequently and tell others about their experiences (11 percent).

  • Adventurous Explorers - users who find online shopping fun but could be more cultivated by merchants (8 percent).

  • Suspicious Learners - users who are open to online shopping, but whose lack of computer skills may inhibit them from carrying through (10 percent).

  • Business Users - highly computer literate professionals who use the Web for business, but not for other shopping (12 percent).

  • Fearful Browsers - participants who know how to use the Web and shopping sites, but have concerns about credit card security and shipping (11 percent).

  • Shopping Avoiders - Web users who prefer in-person shopping experiences (16 percent).

  • Technology Muddlers - users who, due to lower computer literacy, spend little time online and display a low level of interest in expanding their Internet skills (20 percent).

  • Fun Seekers - people who use the Web for entertainment, but not for purchasing because of security and privacy issues and a relatively low-income level (12 percent).

Reaching Out

Although one study pointed to how much Internet users reflect the average person and the other sought to categorize Internet users into profile groups, both studies offered insights from which e-tailers could benefit.

For instance, Adventurous Explorers are willing and ready to spread the word about their positive online experiences, and e-tailers might consider providing easy ways for them to do so.

Suspicious Learners, on the other hand, could benefit from easier-to-use shopping interfaces and more support. Technology Muddlers probably cannot be won over, so marketers should save their efforts for more promising prospects.

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