RETAIL-WEARY CONSUMERS TURN TO HOME SHOPPING

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Rather than going to the mall to buy that new sweater or the latest in videocameras, many people are going straight to the TV or computer in their family room.

A study for the National Retail Federation, sponsored by MasterCard International and conducted by Yankelovich Partners, indicates consumers are growing wary of shopping at traditional retail outlets.

"Safety is a major concern in America today, and only one-fourth of the consumers we interviewed believe shopping malls do a good job of providing a safe shopping environment," said Watts Wacker, managing partner of Yankelovich Partners.

But it isn't fear alone that is driving consumers to shop from home. Many people find electronic home shopping to be convenient and informative.

Yankelovich surveyed 502 adults by phone: 201 traditional shoppers; 201 who had purchased a product via TV at least twice in the past two months; and 100 who had bought through a computer online service at least twice in the past two months.

Considering that more than half of those surveyed are home shoppers, it's not surprising that 62% said they had decided to buy something in a store in the past six months, but left without buying it because sales clerks weren't available. And 60% complained that retail stores do not offer the consumer enough product information.

This dissatisfaction with traditional shopping is leading more and more consumers into the world of home shopping, a $3 billion industry last year.

Of those who had never purchased from TV home shopping, 51% said they would try it if they could get a discount, while 50% would if they could call up a specific product category whenever they wanted.

Margin of error is 5 percentage points.

The survey, conducted Oct. 22 through Nov. 1, points strongly to a boom in electronic home shopping as the result of not only advancements in computer and interactive technology but decreased "technophobia" on the consumer's part, as well as the retailer's.

"Consumer technophobia is beginning to fade away," said Ted Jablonski, VP-retail marketing at MasterCard International. "People see their children and grandchildren getting comfortable with the computer and realize that computers can make their lives more simple."

Sixty-six percent of those interviewed agreed that new technologies like bank ATM cards, once used only by the younger generation, have made their lives easier.

"The possibility of using technology like a credit card swipe terminal in the home has significant advantages for consumers and retailers, like safety and speed of transaction," Mr. Jablonski said.

There is tremendous revenue potential for retailers to launch their own home shopping ventures, Mr. Jablonski said.

Home shoppers have higher median incomes, are better educated and have more credit cards, the survey found. Of those interviewed, the median income was $52,000 for computer shoppers, $37,200 for TV shoppers and $29,400 for traditional shoppers.

Also, the brand image of goods sold through home shopping channels is improving. In addition to showcasing cubic-zirconia, shopping networks are also selling products such as Waterford crystal and clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue.

"There's no doubt that tremendous advances are coming in home shopping," Mr. Jablonski said. "We project that within three to five years we will see that 40% of all Americans will have utilized personal online computer access at least once."

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