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Higher gas prices bring more online buying

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Consumers are shopping on the Internet significantly more than only a year ago—and one of the biggest reasons is the increasing price of gasoline. While this is good news for marketers, the Summer Online Customer Insight Survey conducted by Decision Direct Research this past summer also found that people are less willing to recommend Web sites where they made purchases.

The survey found that 19% of respondents had "significantly" increased their online spending in the past year while 3% had increased spending "slightly." The high price of gas was named as one of the reasons for this 13% more of the time than it was in 2006. "Saves time" increased by 6%.

"A few years ago, most people wouldn't put ‘high gas prices’ and ‘online shopping’ in the same sentence, but they're definitely cognizant of it now," said Lilliane LeBel, VP at DDR, which has been conducting quarterly surveys for catalog and e-commerce retailers for five years. "Today, people have become so comfortable with shopping online, I think they kind of say, ‘Should I drive to the store or buy it online? Ah, I'll buy it online, " LeBel said.

DDR only interviewed individuals who had used a shopping Web site within the previous three months so that the buying experience would still be fresh in their minds. Participating companies sent e-mail invitations to complete the survey to about 500,000 online shoppers, and DDR had more than 55,000 individuals complete the survey.

While the increase in consumer ordering is good for online retailers, one piece of bad news found in the survey is that consumers are now less likely to recommend a Web site where they purchased something to a friend than they were four years ago.

LeBel said that part of this could be attributed to poor stocking issues. "Excellent" and "good" scores in combination have decreased from 85% in 2004 to 76% in 2007 on that issue, according to the report. "This always surprises me," she said. "I feel like with technology today, companies should be able to do better in terms of their fulfillment, and I constantly see the out of stock information/ratings increase, particularly in the fourth quarter."

On a more positive note, online buyers indicated that they are now able to find "unique items not found elsewhere" more often with these scores increasing by six points to 9% (for those rating this question "excellent" or "good," LeBel said. "It used to be that a cataloger would have a unique item in his or her catalog and then the next year it would appear in 25 catalogs. That's happening less, which is good because uniqueness of some kind is key for a retailer."

The ways in which consumers find online retailers have shifted over time as well: In 2005, 24% of the respondents indicated it was "the receipt of a link from the merchant" that prompted them to go to the site; this increased to 38% in 2007. Other choices were "use of search engines,"(down from 15% to 13%), "bookmarks" (from 25% to 20%), and "entering a URL address directly." (from 32 % to 24 %).

The percentage of consumers saying they visited the Web site when they received an e-mail promotion increased from 45% in 2005 to 62% in 2007. Scores for visiting the site when they receive any type of e-mail from the merchant, as well as a new catalog, have also increased.

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