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Looking, not buying, is what most Web surfers are doing so far, according to a recent University of Michigan Business School online survey of 3,500 Internet users.

About 79% of respondents use the Web primarily for browsing; 66% for entertainment; 59% for education; 26% for business research and only 8% for shopping (respondents could choose more than one answer).

The average household income of respondents was $59,600, the average age was 31, and 70% had a college degree. Less than 10% of respondents were women.

Although only 18% had spent $50 or more on online purchases in the past 6 months, the research showed that online marketers still had crucial input even if the buyer was purchasing a product elsewhere.

"Many people are concluding the Web is not a good place for marketers because they can't sell," said Sunil Gupta, a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan and director of the study. "Actually, though, the Web is a great way to provide quality information and maintain customer relations. The majority of respondents said Web vendors were better than regular vendors in terms of quick and customized service as well as ease of access."

The survey found that magazines and newspapers are the first choice online respondents go to find product information, followed by non-commercial Web sites and, in a tie for third place, direct mail pieces and commercial Web sites.

However, the research predicted that six months from now commercial Web sites will move ahead of direct mail in serving as a provider of product and service information.

The characteristics most important to consumers in a Web vendor are quality of information, reliability and security, the survey found. Surprisingly, price was least important when conducting commerce online.

"Price may not be important to this community because the median income is more than $50,000, and rather than getting a deal, these consumers want reliability and quality information," said Mr. Gupta.

The school is launching a third phase of the survey this month, targeted to companies with online presences, to learn more about goals, marketing strategies, sales objectives and levels of satisfaction related to commercial Web sites.

The first phase of the study, conducted by Georgia Tech University about a year ago, looked at the more technical side of the Internet-what kind of browsers, connectivity, programming and software people were using.

All questionnaires, data sets and summary results are available on the Internet at http://www.umich.edu/;sgupta/hermes.htm.

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