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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.


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.


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.


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:

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