The number of users accessing the Internet from home has increased dramatically, and their preferred online activity is email, not research or shopping, according to the 1999 PricewaterhouseCoopers Consumer Technology Survey.
Compared from last year’s survey, Internet access at home increased sharply, up nearly 60 percent in the US to 43 percent and nearly doubling in the UK to 24 percent. US consumers also spend almost twice as much time on the Internet as their European counterparts; 5.3 hours per week, compared to an average of 2.4 hours.
This year’s Consumer Technology Survey asked adults in the UK, US, Germany, and France about their Internet use and Internet technology in general. Approximately 800 adults from each nation were surveyed.
Why They Go Online
In the US, 48 percent of Internet users said email is their primary reason for going online, surpassing research (28 percent). UK users said they use the Internet equally for email (39 percent) and research (38 percent). Both the Germans and French primarily go online for research purposes, with the Germans (14 percent) the most likely among the four groups to access the Internet primarily for online banking or investing.
“Consumers on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly realize the importance of the Internet to their lives — to communicate, transact, entertain, educate, and improve their connectivity and productivity,” said Frank Doyle of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Technology, InfoComm, and Entertainment Group. “Global convergence companies must continue to aggressively integrate their online and offline strategies to keep up in a fully connected digital future where consumers no longer recognize a distinction between commerce and e-commerce.”
The study also found that the time Internet users spend online often comes at the expense of traditional forms of media. When asked what they would do if the Internet did not exist, the majority of American (70 percent) and European (67 percent) consumers said they would watch television or read. The French were the only group to indicate that they would listen to music (22 percent) or go to the movies (12 percent) were they not online, and they also would spend more time on sports or other social pursuits, like being with their family or eating out.
How They Go Online
While Americans (32 percent) are most concerned with the speed with which they can operate on the Internet, Europeans as a whole (34 percent) are more concerned with costs related to access. Normal telephone lines continue to be the primary means of connecting to the Internet (71 percent in the US, 50 percent across the European countries), with the exception of the Germans. The Germans prefer a much faster alternative, ISDN lines (49 percent). Cable modems were the preferred method for one-quarter of the total respondents, but with no growth demonstrated in the US or the UK over the past year.
Online Shopping and Marketing
Americans are also willing to spend more on an Internet purchase than Europeans. US consumer online spending habits have not changed significantly from 1998. The survey found that Americans seem comfortable spending about $295 for a single online purchase. While the average purchase threshold has remained consistent, the number of Americans unwilling to shop online has dropped to 19 percent, down from 30 percent last year.
Although it has been suggested that Web surfers seek out the comfort and reliability of well-known brands on the Internet, the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found this factor really has little influence on whether or not an individual revisits a Web site. According to the survey, enjoyable content and overall usefulness are the major factors cited for return visits to sites.
“While launching a site anchored by a brand may mean they will come, it does not necessarily mean they will return,” said Stephen Abraham, managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers Entertainment & Media Practice. “As the number of entertainment and information options increase for consumers, the less time and patience they will have for sites that do not fulfill their personal needs. We are now seeing Web sites becoming as much a victim of churn as the traditional media from which they are looking to attract eyeballs.”
The survey also looked at the effect of MP3 technology on the Web, and found that one-quarter of all the Web surfers polled said they download music from the Internet. As to whether downloading music from the Internet helps or hinders sales, the results are mixed. Approximately 60 percent of the Internet users polled say downloading music from the Internet has exposed them to new artists and music, which has prompted them to purchase a CD or tape. At the same time, half say that downloading music has actually saved them from making a purchase.
“At this stage, the interest in downloading music is principally built on access to new artists and songs,” Abraham said. “The challenge for major record labels is to design complimentary online and offline businesses that capitalize on the entire value chain, translating online buzz into online and offline sales.”
Consumers in both the US and Europe are taking a “wait and spend later” attitude toward the purchase of convergence products and digital television sets and service. A total of 64 percent of consumers polled believe high-tech products and services in the convergence category are usually too expensive, while 59 percent believe they are too complicated.
Sixty percent of those polled said they feel that such high-tech offerings could improve the quality of their lives. Additionally, more than half (54 percent) of the participants said they are likely to do more business with companies that offer integrated products. Likewise, 82 percent of those surveyed overall responded that the benefits of digital television (DTV) have not been substantiated in their minds, and 45 percent do not see a need for it. Very few consumers, less than 10 percent in each nation, currently have DTV and few intend to purchase either a set, or service, in the next year.
“Persistent concerns over cost and complexity indicate that next generation products, like personal video recorders and HDTVs, are still the luxuries of early adopters,” said Robert Boyle, European Leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Entertainment and Media Practice. “Companies in the US and Europe need to make a larger commitment to educating consumers about the benefits offered by convergence products and services if they want to spur mass market adoption.”