Buying gifts online proved to be one of the least popular uses of the Net this holiday season, according to a recent telephone survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The survey also indicated that e-retailers continue to have trouble turning browsers into buyers. Forty-five per cent of respondents said they turned to the Net only for gift ideas, and nearly one-third said they used the Web only to compare prices.
The most common reason for not buying online? A desire to see a gift before paying for it, cited by a whopping 85 per cent of those who opted out of buying online. Security concerns about sending credit card and other personal information online was the next most-common reason for not shopping online, cited by 79 per cent of those who didn't complete purchases when browsing online.
The survey revealed some noteworthy differences among Internet users nationwide. Westerners were the most frequent holiday e-mailers.
The survey also found that 53 per cent of Internet users sent e-mail to friends and family to make holiday plans. One in three people surveyed said they dispatched online greeting cards this holiday season.
However, only 24 per cent of Web surfers said they purchased gifts online, spending an average of $US330. About the same number of people looked to the Net for information on crafts, recipes and ideas for holiday parties.
"During the holidays, online Americans were more inclined to use the Internet for social purposes than commercial purposes," concludes Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. The survey polled 2,038 Internet users from November 22 to December 21, and interviewed 521 people from December 14 to December 21 - peak gift-buying season - regarding their online shopping habits.
Other findings from the survey also bode poorly for online retailers. The percentage of people who abandoned their online shopping cart mid-transaction equalled the same 24 per cent who bought online. And of those Internet users who bought gifts online in 1999, 22 per cent said they opted against doing so again this year.
That figure far surpassed the 6 per cent of Internet users who did their holiday shopping online for the first time this year, which Rainie says is particularly surprising given that the number of Internet users only continues to grow.
"I think the stories about last holiday season - about people not getting gifts on time, not getting the right gift - that probably spooked a lot of people," he says.