Internet Becoming Necessity to Users

Nearly half of Internet users say the medium is just about becoming a necessity, and almost three-quarters use it to make better buying decisions, according to a study released by America Online, Inc. and Roper Starch Worldwide.

The first-ever “America Online/Roper Starch Cyberstudy 1998,” a sample of 1,001 adult Americans who subscribe to online and Internet services from home, reveals that 77 percent of the online population believe that being online has made their lives better and 80 percent say it makes many activities easier and more convenient.

The interactive medium has so penetrated users’ everyday lives that nearly half of those with laptops take them along on vacation to go online and two-thirds would prefer an Internet connection if stranded alone on an island for an extended period of time over a television or telephone, the study found. Moreover, 7 in 10 adults think going online is important for children, and almost half of those surveyed believe it has a more positive influence on their children than watching television.

“This first-of-its-kind study confirms that our vision for the interactive medium is becoming a reality: Internet online is becoming a necessity,” said Bob Pittman, America Online, Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer.

Pittman cited other Roper research that suggests the Internet has surpassed VCRs, stereos and cable TV as a necessity for those who have access to them.

“The AOL/Roper study also shows that the medium dramatically improves people’s lives,” Pittman said. “Whether it’s keeping in touch with friends and family, getting information to make better buying decisions or trading stocks, people are clearly seeing everyday tasks are easier and more convenient when they’re done online — and the longer people have been online, the more benefits they notice.”

Among the findings in the study:

  • 71 percent of the online consumer population has been online for under three years and 29 percent has only been online for a year or less
  • 44 percent already say the interactive medium is just about a necessity to them and 77 percent believe it has made their lives better
  • When asked about 16 everyday activities, more than 80 percent of the respondents said engaging in those activities online was either “much or somewhat easier” than “the way they used to do it.”
  • 71 percent of the online consumer population say they regularly or occasionally go online to get information about products to buy, both on- and offline
  • 87 percent say they regularly or occasionally go online to communicate with friends and family and 94% say that the online medium makes communication with friends and family much or somewhat easier than methods they used before
  • 69 percent of those online feel that it is important for children today to know how to go online and use the Internet
  • 51 percent prefer using email to communicate with business associates to using the phone or regular mail

The medium may already be impacting how people use different types of media in their lives. Forty-three percent of those surveyed say they viewed more television before they went online. By comparison, overwhelming numbers report the same degree of newspaper and magazine reading before and after going online. As an indication of the online medium’s growing importance in delivering timely news, 50 percent of those surveyed indicated that they expect to get more of their news online two years from now.

“Very large numbers see online as having a major impact on society, particularly in the areas of education, the workplace, media and entertainment — and even democracy itself,” said Edward Keller, President of Roper Starch Worldwide.

The study also found that 85 percent of those who shop online regularly or occasionally believe shopping online is much or somewhat “easier than the way they used to do it.” Fully half of all those who have been online at least three years expect to increase their online purchasing, according to the study.

“This new research indicates that the Internet is revolutionizing the way consumers shop both online and offline, by building brands, providing consumer information and prompting purchases,” Pittman said. “Not since the advent of the covered shopping mall in the 1960s has a phenomenon caused such a dramatic shift in people’s shopping behavior.”

Interviews for the survey were conducted via telephone in August 1998 and the results have a +/-3 percent margin of error. Over 60 closed- and open-ended questions were asked of participants on various Internet-related topics. The study was commissioned by AOL and carried out by Roper Starch.

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