Making AOL Smile: e-Commerce Study

Judging by the results of a recent survey of consumers’ attitudes about e-Commerce and online shopping, this holiday shopping season could be merry for e-tailers. At the very least, the results are giving the ISP something to smile about.

The fifth annual “Cyberstudy on E-Commerce”, by marketing research firm RoberASW in conjunction with AOL, found that the number of online shoppers has doubled in four years.

Conducted by telephone between Sept. 15th and Oct. 15th, the survey found three in five (or about 60 percent of those surveyed), make online purchases regularly. That’s double the number who said so just four years ago, and the highest percentage in the five years that the survey has been conducted.

The RoperASW/AOL study used a telephone survey of a random sample of 1,001 home Internet/online subscribers. An AOL spokesman said although some AOL subscribers were randomly included in the survey, the sample group was drawn from a range of online providers.

Among the drivers behind the growth in online shoppers? Convenience. The survey said home Internet users save, on average, nearly six hours a week by doing things online.

More than three-quarters of the survey group (77 percent) said they go online to research prices before they buy, and favor the online medium over every form of traditional media for researching products before making a purchase.

The results also said nearly three-quarters of online shoppers (73 percent) have purchased presents online in the past, and close to half (47 percent) said they do so regularly or occasionally.

Travel reservations or ticket purchases were the most popular activity, with 50 percent reporting they regularly book trips online. Next came clothing or apparel purchases, which 36 percent ranked as a routine online activity. Hardware and software buys were cited by 32 percent of the survey, followed by tracking stocks (28 percent) and online auctions (24 percent).

The least popular online activities were downloading books, an activity cited by 10 percent of the group surveyed. The bottom three activities in the ranking read like a who’s who of discredited dot-coms: Home grocery deliveries were cited by just 4 percent of the group, followed by 2 percent who said they buy pet food and stamps online.

More than half of all online shoppers recommend it to their family and friends, while about 43 percent say they take time out at work to shop or plan their vacations.

Surfers who don’t purchase goods and services online said their main concern was whether their credit card information would be kept secure.

More than half in the not-interested category said they would be likely to consider shopping online if they could get free shipping, a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and be able to return or pick-up their purchases at a local store.

The results show, more than anything, the maturing of the online medium, and appear in line with holiday shopping forecasts.

A recent e-commerce survey by BizRate.com, is forecasting $16.9 billion in online shopping sales for the fourth quarter, up 35 percent over last year’s fourth quarter. In holiday sales alone, the research outfit is expecting sales to rise to out $8 billion, up 24 percent from last year’s holiday season.

Forrester Research, meanwhile, is forecasting about $9.5 billion in online holiday shopping this season. That’s after it tracked a decline in third quarter online retail sales of $17 billion, down from the consecutive $20 billion quarters so far in 2002.

And while the research firm expects four million more households to go online to shop this season compared to last year, it expects shoppers to spend a little less because of the shaky economy.

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