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Just because someone can surf the Net doesn't mean he or she knows a lot about computers. In fact, although 83 percent of people polled online say they had recently purchased an electronics product (computer, DVD player, digital camera, etc.), just 15 percent say they're very knowledgeable about such products, according to a recent report from the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association. But if ignorance is bliss, what factors are helping these consumers make their purchasing decisions?

At the top of this list is word of mouth, according to the August 2002 report, “CE Consumer Education.� Sixty-four percent of the representative online sample of 900 adults say they learn about new electronics products through their friends, family or co-workers, and 65 percent turn to these people first when researching a new product. Women are even more likely than men to turn to their acquaintances, to learn about new products (73 percent versus 57 percent) as well as to investigate a specific product (73 percent versus 58 percent).

For both men and women, it's a matter of trust: 78 percent of all respondents say they have faith that their circle of acquaintances will give them an honest assessment of new electronics equipment. And if they know someone who actually owns a particular gadget, they trust that person's opinion even more (84 percent). By comparison, 42 percent say they trust online product reviews, 39 percent trust manufacturer Web sites, 35 percent trust newspaper or magazine articles, 20 percent trust retailer Web sites and 13 percent trust newspaper or magazine ads.

Given consumers' esteem for those closest to them, it makes sense that they also overwhelmingly enlist the help of loved ones when making an actual purchase (73 percent). Women are more likely than men to confer with a member of their family (76 percent versus 70 percent), and kids are twice as likely to act as consultants for mom (14 percent) than for dad (7 percent). Even with all this advice, 75 percent of men and 68 percent of women surveyed say they will pull out their wallets only when they know exactly what they want, and from where, according to the report.

Where consumers go to make their electronics purchases also varies demographically. Men are more likely than women to go to a general electronics store (45 percent versus 39 percent) or online (10 percent versus 4 percent), whereas women are almost twice as likely as men to buy electronics from a mass merchant (27 percent versus 16 percent). Interestingly, 18- to 34-year-olds (52 percent) and those with household incomes over $50,000 (54 percent) are much more likely than those 55 and older (32 percent) or those earning less than $25,000 (26 percent) to go to a general electronics store. Also, contrary to the popular notion that online shopping is solely for the young, the survey found that those age 55 and older are actually more likely to make their electronics purchases online than are those 18 to 34 (11 percent versus 8 percent).

Above all else, Americans are looking for a bargain. Across all demographics, “the store has lowest price� is one of the most important factors that influences where shoppers go to buy consumer electronics. Bargains are especially important to those in the 18- to 34-year-old group (89 percent, compared with 75 percent of those who are 55 and older). On the other hand, the variety of products and brand selection that a store offers is more important to Americans age 55 and older (83 percent) than it is to 18- to 34-year-old consumers (77 percent).

For more information, visit the Consumer Electronics Association's Web site at


When deciding which electronics product to buy, “ease of use� is far more important to women (91 percent) and to consumers age 55 and older (92 percent) than it is to men (84 percent) and to 18- to 34-year-olds (81 percent).


MEN WOMEN 18-34 35-54 55+
Product quality/performance 96% 96% 94% 96% 97%
Features 91% 92% 89% 92% 92%
Price 86% 90% 86% 89% 88%
Ease of use 84% 91% 81% 87% 92%
Warranty 83% 87% 75% 86% 86%
Has the latest technology 78% 71% 72% 73% 79%
Product reviews 73% 69% 63% 73% 76%
Availability of accessories 73% 69% 69% 71% 76%
Friend/family member recommendation 57% 66% 60% 60% 64%
Brand name 59% 57% 52% 58% 62%
Amount of information on package 48% 59% 50% 52% 62%
Product style or fashion 43% 45% 48% 42% 53%
Salesperson recommendation 21% 25% 21% 23% 26%
Look of packaging 20% 14% 19% 16% 20%
Source: Consumer Electronics Association/eBrain Market Research]
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