Internet shopping and researching surges

Faith Merino · September 29, 2010 · Short URL:

More Americans are researching, buying, and reviewing products online

I routinely research products, services, restaurants, movies, hotels, and more online before I commit to buying.  Rarely do I actually post a review, unless I’ve been particularly appalled by the service or product performance (The Days Inn in Ogden, Utah is still reeling from the scathing review I gave them three years ago, I’m sure).  And I am not the only one using the Internet to get more information on a potential buy.   

More American adults are researching and reviewing products online than ever before, according to a just-released study from the Pew Research Center.

E-commerce has been steadily gaining traction since the mid-2000s and the Pew report, released Wednesday, breaks down exactly who is researching and shopping online, as well as who is reviewing.  The number of American adults who report using the Internet on any given day to research a product has risen to 20% in Septembers, up from 15% in February 2004.  And the number of adults who reported having at least occasionally used the Internet to research a product or service has risen from 49% in 2004 to 58% in 2010.

Additionally, the percentage of adults who use the Internet to shop for toys, music, books, and clothing has risen from 36% in May 2000 to 52% in May 2010. 

Even more significant is the jump in the percentage of respondents reporting the use of social-networking sites to research and review products, which has soared to 46% in 2010, from 5% in 2005.

“Many Americans begin their purchasing experience by doing online research to compare prices, quality, and the reviews of other shoppers,” said Jim Jansen, Senior Fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and author of the report, in a press release. “Even if they end up making their purchase in a store, they start their fact-finding and decision-making on the internet.”

Exactly who uses the Internet for product research is also quite interesting.  For example, slightly more women than men (79% versus 77%, respectively) use the Internet to research a product, and are also more likely than men to post a review online.  White people, people with incomes of $70,000 a year or higher, Internet users aged 50-64, and college graduates all have higher rates of using the Internet for product research than other groups.

While one would naturally think that the same people who research products online are the same people who post reviews, in some cases the opposite holds true.  For example, in a racial breakdown of who researches products online, 81% of white respondents reported using the Internet to research a product, compared to 76% of Hispanic respondents and 66% of African American respondents.  But in the same racial breakdown of who reviews products online, more African American respondents reported reviewing products online (38%) than Hispanic respondents (34%) or white respondents (32%).

What I find particularly interesting is the number of people who claim to use the Internet to make travel reservations.  In 2000, the proportion of people who used the Internet to book plane tickets, hotels, and rental cars was just 22%, compared to 52% of respondents today.  I actually find this number surprisingly low, as I seriously don’t know how people ever booked plane tickets in the first place before the Internet came along… Did they call?  Or did they have to go to the actual airport?

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t have an answer for me.

The data for the report was culled from telephone interviews with a sample of 3,001 adults aged 18 and over.

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