Originally created 01/04/01

E-retailers trying to turn browsers into buyers



Eighty-five percent of Net shoppers who opted out of purchasing Christmas gifts online said they wanted to actually see the product before buying it, a study says.

Buying gifts online proved to be one of the least popular uses of the Net this holiday season, according to a recent telephone survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The survey also indicated that e-retailers continue to have trouble turning browsers into buyers. Forty-five percent of respondents said they turned to the Net only for gift ideas, and nearly one-third said they used the Web only to compare prices.

The most common reason for not buying online? A desire to see a gift before paying for it, cited by a whopping 85 percent of those who opted out of buying online. Security concerns about sending credit card and other personal information online was the next most-common reason for not shopping online, cited by 79 percent of those who didn't complete purchases when browsing online.

The survey revealed some noteworthy differences among Internet users nationwide. Westerners were the most frequent holiday e-mailers. Southerners like holiday shopping more than the rest of the country, which translated into higher use of the Net to search for gift ideas. Northeasters were the most likely group to shop online and were twice as likely to buy a gift online than Midwesterners. Sixteen percent of Midwesterners went online to research religious and spiritual traditions - the largest percentage of any region. Only 14 percent of all respondents said they turned to the Web for religious information.

The survey also found that 53 percent of Internet users sent e-mail to friends and family to make holiday plans. One in three people surveyed said they dispatched online greeting cards this holiday season.

However, only 24 percent of Web surfers said they purchased gifts online, spending an average of $330. About the same number of people looked to the Net for information on crafts, recipes and ideas for holiday parties.

"During the holidays, online Americans were more inclined to use the Internet for social purposes than commercial purposes," concludes Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. The survey polled 2,038 Internet users from Nov. 22 to Dec. 21, and interviewed 521 people from Dec. 14 to Dec. 21 - peak gift-buying season - regarding their online shopping habits.

Other findings from the survey also bode poorly for online retailers. The percentage of people who abandoned their online shopping cart mid-transaction equaled the same 24 percent who bought online. And of those Internet users who bought gifts online in 1999, 22 percent said they opted against doing so again this year.

That figure far surpassed the 6 percent of Internet users who did their holiday shopping online for the first time this year, which Rainie says is particularly surprising given that the number of Internet users continues to grow.

"I think the stories about last holiday season, about people not getting gifts on time, not getting the right gift - that probably spooked a lot of people," he says.