The Online Mall: How People Do - and Don't - Use the Internet in Making Purchasing Decisions

Contact: Cindy Jobbins, 215.575.4812, John B. Horrigan, 202.419.4500


Washington, DC - 05/18/2008 - The internet plays an important role in how people conduct research for purchases, but it is just one among a variety of sources people use and usually not the key factor in final purchasing decisions. A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "The Internet and Consumer Choice," tracks the decision-making processes for buying music, purchasing a cell phone, and buying or renting a home. Here are the top three sources used in product research for each of the three products.

For those who have bought music in the prior year:

  • 83% say they find out about music from the radio, the television, or in a movie.
  • 64% say they find out about music from friends, family members, or co-workers.
  • 56% say they find out about music through various online tools, such as going to a band’s or artist’s website or streaming samples of songs to their computers.
Among those who have purchased a cell phone in the prior year:

  • 59% asked an expert or salesperson for advice.
  • 46% go to one or more cell phone stores.
  • 39% use the internet.
For those who have rented or bought new housing in the prior year:

  • 49% use the internet.
  • 49% look through ads in the newspaper.
  • 47% ask a real estate agent for advice.
Even though many buyers use the internet in product research, relatively few say online information had a major impact on the product choice they eventually made. Only 7% of music buyers, 10% of cell phone buyers, and 11% of those who bought or rented a home in the prior year say that online information had a major impact on their decision.

“The internet is a tactical tool for shoppers who use it in product research, and usually not a game-changer in people’s purchasing decisions,” said Horrigan. “Its impacts show up in efficiencies in the search process. Even for a digital product such as music, people more often than not buy in stores, not online.”

Among online Americans who use the internet for product research, online resources make shopping more efficient by helping them explore options and compare features. And while sizable numbers say it helps them get better deals, few execute the purchase online.

For music buyers who used the internet to find out about music:

  • 68% said it helped them learn more about bands or artists they were interested in.
  • 42% said online information helped them save money in buying music.
  • 37% said it led them to buy more music than they otherwise would have.
Nonetheless, just 22% of all music buyers say their most recent purchase was online (either a digital download or ordering a compact disc), while 74% said their most recent purchase was at a store. Among smaller set of music buyers using the internet to find out about music, one-third (33%) said their most recent purchase was online.

Among cell phone buyers who used the internet for product research:

  • 48% said it changed the model or brand of the cell phone they bought.
  • 43% said online information led them to get a phone with more features than they otherwise would have.
  • 41% said online information helped them spend less on their phone.
Just 12% of all cell buyers say they bought their cell phone online; among the smaller set of music buyers using the internet to find out about music, 26% said they purchased it online.

Among those who bought or rented a home in the prior year:

  • 57% say it reduced the number of places they looked at.
  • 54% say they took a video tour of the house, apartment, or neighborhood in which were interested.
  • 29% say they thought online information helped them save money on the house they bought or apartment they rented.
“Shoppers cast their information nets widely when researching a product, so online information exists in a competitive product research environment,” said John B. Horrigan, Associate Director at the Pew Internet Project and author of the report. “This gives online vendors incentives to promote an environment of trust and reliability at their websites.”

Read the complete study The Internet and Consumer Choice on the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site.

About the Pew Internet & American Life Project: The Pew Internet Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. Pew Internet explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.  The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project's Web site: http://www.pewinternet.org.

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