OPINION: Seasoned users lead in e-commerce

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Established online users blaze the trail in the quest for online profits.

Based on a new study from NetSmart, there is a direct correlation between the length of time users have been online and online shopping. (NetSmart refers to three-year-plus users as Trail Blazers.)

They offer predictions of what marketers can expect in 2001 as 13 million Newbies evolve into experienced confident users.

Initially, Newbies view the Internet as a toy. As the novelty wears off, it becomes an invaluable time saving tool.

The world isn't changing. It has changed. Instead of getting in line, shoppers are going online.

NEW SHOPPING PATTERNS

According to a telephone survey of 1,000 users older than 21 who are online at least one hour a week, 36% say they regularly go online to shop and buy. This is up from the 24% benchmark in last year's NetSmart study.

Trail Blazers provide an early alert: Twice as many (47%) shop online as Newbies (23%). Even more important, new shopping patterns are emerging. Nineteen percent of online purchasers report they are shopping less at retail stores, and 20% are doing less catalog shopping.

Today's online users are the prime prospects advertisers spend a fortune to reach.

The snapshot of these online users is like a panoramic view of shoppers in an upscale mall on Saturday afternoon. They have a household income of $61,000, 74% are married, nearly half (48%) have children and their average age is 42.

INSTANT GRATIFICATION

In other findings, 79% of Trail Blazers vs. 63% of Newbies made at least one online purchase during the past year. Nearly half (48%) of these three-year-plus users made more than 10 online purchases and spent more than $500. And 88% of Trail Blazers paid with a credit card online vs. 71% of Newbies.

Instant gratification overcomes hypothetical fears. Half (51%) of Trail Blazers reported they were only somewhat concerned about security vs. 69% of Newbies who claimed to be very concerned.

Web sites are becoming as important to the marketing mix as brick-and-mortar outlets. On the Internet, hot prospects purposely come to your Web site waiting to be convinced. Half (50%) say the Internet is the first place they go when they are planning a purchase or investment. And 49% go online with no specific brand in mind. Instead of going from store to store, serious shoppers and investors are clicking from site to site. Twenty-five percent to 35% of Web shoppers still like to buy (what they saw on the Web) at retail.

Web sites are the bull's-eye in the media mix. All other media should be used to drive traffic to this powerful new persuasion tool. Traditional media generates hot prospects; Web sites close sales.

POOR NAVIGATION DETERS USERS

It seems simple enough, but many brands have not figured out how to exploit this new interactive medium to its fullest potential. Eighty-three percent of hot prospects leave Web sites out of frustration caused by navigation, slow downloading, lack of interactivity or egocentricity. Remember, it's just click-click to your competition.

To paraphrase Buckminster Fuller, "We must start planning for the future now--we're going to spend the rest of our lives there."

Bernadette Tracy is President of New York-based NetSmart, which provides syndicated attitudinal surveys for the Internet industry. An executive summary of "NetSmart 4, E-Commerce: Internet Users Mean Business" can be obtained by e-mailing: btracy@Netsmart-Research.com

Copyright June 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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