Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler

July 18, 2001
The Ever-Changing Internet Shopper
New research shows the profile of the average Internet user closely resembles the profile of the average American

A few years ago, the typical Internet user was young and male with an above-average salary. Since then the profile has changed. More women, seniors and people with average or below-average incomes have embraced the Internet, making the typical user much more like the typical American.

According to the market research company InsightExpress, 49% of Internet users are male and 51% are female -- the same male/female ratio found by the 2000 U.S. census. In 1996, 88% of Internet users were between the ages of 18 and 49, but now 76% of the online population falls in that age range. The 2000 census found 63% of adults are 18-49. InsightExpress also found the average income of Internet users is $49,800, down from an average of $62,700 in 1996. Internet user income levels are still above the 2000 U.S. census average of $40,816, but the income gap is continuing to close.

Another recent survey of Internet users, this one by Brigham Young University, sought to identify specific groups of online shoppers. The survey focused on computer literacy and lifestyle variables, rather than age and income, and created eight categories of Internet users. Here's the breakdown according to the Brigham Young study:

  • 11% of Internet users are "shopping lovers" – people who shop online often and tell others about their experiences
  • 8% are "adventurous explorers" – people who find online shopping fun but could be more cultivated by merchants
  • 10% are "suspicious learners" – users who are open to online shopping, but may not buy online because of their lack of computer or Internet skills
  • 12% are "business users" – highly computer literate people who use the Web for business but not shopping
  • 11% are "fearful browsers" – people who know how to use the Internet and shopping sites, but have concerns about credit card security and shipping
  • 16% are "shopping avoiders" – Internet users who prefer shopping at bricks-and-mortar stores
  • 20% are "technology muddlers" – people who have lower computer literacy and spend little time online
  • 12% are "fun seekers" – people who use the Internet for entertainment, but not for shopping because of security and privacy issues and relatively low incomes
E-business analysts say online retailers can benefit by staying informed about the profile and habits of Internet users. This can help e-tailers better target their marketing efforts and e-business initiatives. The changing profile of Internet users is especially important, analysts say, because it validates the Internet as a mainstream marketing, advertising and research platform and shows that the Internet can be used to reach the average consumer.

- by Julia M. Duncan