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Source: Toronto Star

Posted on January 2, 2002

      As the Internet burrows deeper into American society, it has evolved beyond its place as the domain of young, wealthy white men.

      A study released yesterday says women have jumped ahead of men for the first time in using the Internet to do their holiday shopping and that ethnic minorities are joining them.

      "It shows how mainstream the Internet is becoming," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a non-profit group that authored the study. "The online world now looks a lot like the offline world.''

      Over-all, 29 million American shoppers bought gifts online during the 2001 holiday season, spending $392 (U.S.) each, up from $330 last year. A quarter of all U.S. Internet users did some of their buying online this year, versus a fifth of them last year.

      Some 58 per cent of the buyers were women.

      The study also noted another increase: A third of all online shoppers bought gifts using computers at work.

      Rainie said it was not surprising that women shoppers caught up with men, because they traditionally control the household's spending decisions.

      The study found that as the number of U.S. Internet users grows, so does the proportion of online shoppers.

      Eleven million first-time shoppers spent money online this holiday season. Last year, 51 per cent of American Internet users said they'd bought something online. This year, the number rose to 58 per cent.

      Measured by income, however, wealthy Americans are still the most likely to cyber-shop. Of all households with incomes of more than $75,000, 39 per cent bought something online, versus 15 per cent of those earning less than $30,000.

      The study cited cyber-shopping increases of 50 per cent or more among blacks and Hispanics, alongside increases in over-all Internet use, Rainie said.

      But the largest proportion of Internet surfers - 43 per cent of all users - are window-shopping: looking for gifts and comparing prices online, then dashing off to the mall to make the deal.

      "The Web site is becoming a promotion piece for the store,'' said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, which covers consumer spending patterns. "They see the item on the screen and they compare it with others. But they want to go and see what it really looks like, maybe touch it.''

      Online merchants share some of the credit for the increase, said Dan Hess, vice-president of comScore Networks, a research firm that tracks online buying. Hess said online stores designed Web sites to make shopping easier, while convincing customers of the security of their credit card numbers. Most were able to ensure that gifts arrived before Christmas.

      "It's all about making the shopping experience more efficient, more reliable and more comfortable," Hess said.

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