Online consumers rate holiday shopping as very merry

Network World |  Business

Wall Street may be down on e-retailers, but Internet users remain bullish on the prospects of saving time and money by shopping online, according to a study of U.S. consumers to be released Friday.

A survey of 2,000 Internet users conducted by market researchers Cognitiative and Greenfield Online found that 92% of Internet users shopped online during the 2000 holiday season and 84% made purchases online. Most were experienced Web shoppers, with only 12% of respondents saying they had shopped online for the first time during this holiday season.

Overall, consumers were pleased with their online shopping experiences during the holiday season. Web sites met the expectations of 71% of online shoppers and exceeded the expectations of another 23%. Indeed, 47% of respondents said they bought more online during the 2000 holiday season than they did a year ago, with a third of the respondents spending upwards of $400 online during the fourth quarter.

"The Internet has carved out a permanent space in consumers' shopping behavior," says Laurie Windham, founder and CEO of Cognitiative. "This is not an aberration or a fad like the Hula Hoop. The key reasons are the convenience of shopping online and the feeling that consumers are still getting a good price."

While they enjoy the convenience of shopping online, consumers remain cost conscious. More than 60% of consumers said they responded to shopping incentives from Web sites. And 70% of respondents said they consider price to be the most important factor when shopping online.

The survey indicates a strong outlook for 2001, with 55% of respondents anticipating that they will increase their online shopping this year and another 33% expecting to buy the same amount online as they did in 2000. At the same time, consumers report spending less money through other channels such as catalogs, home-shopping TV networks and retail stores.

As consumers get more accustomed to shopping online, they become more demanding of Web site performance. About half of the respondents said they encountered difficulties shopping online. In fact, 41% reported that they abandoned a shopping cart before completing an online transaction. The No. 1 reason for that was because a product was out of stock, but consumers also criticized Web sites that were too slow or crashed and lost orders.

"We saw fewer complaints about Web site performance, but there are still complaints that sites loaded too slowly or weren't available," Windham says. She says 16% of respondents reported sites being too slow, another 16% reported sites that crashed, and 13% complained about sites being too hard to navigate.

"They may not have control over shipping charges or whether a product is in stock, but there are still some things that the technologists can do to improve the online shopping experience," Windham adds.

Other key findings of the survey:

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