Shoppers Favor Search Over Yellow Pages

NEW YORK More consumers are turning to Internet search engines for local shopping information instead of the phone book, according to a new survey.

The Kelsey Group and ConStat polled the research habits of 500 consumers, comparing their responses to a poll it completed in October 2003 of 1,000 people. The latest survey found the percentage of consumers saying they used search engines to find information on local products and information rose from 47 percent to 55 percent. At the same time, use of print Yellow Pages declined from 75 percent to 62 percent.

Neal Polachek, a Kelsey Group analyst, attributed the shifts to increased penetration of broadband connections in U.S. homes and beefed-up local search engines rolled out by Google and Yahoo.

“What local search is doing is forcing advertisers to begin to start re-evaluating where they’re going to put their money over time,” he said.

The survey found other local media remained mostly stagnant. Use of newspapers declined from 73 percent to 70 percent, and city guides fell from 21 percent to 18 percent. The margin of error was 3.5 percent.

Yellow Pages publishers have tried to stanch the loss of users by introducing their own Internet sites. The Kelsey-Constat survey found just 27 percent of consumers said they used an Internet directory site, up slightly from 24 percent in the previous survey.

“They’ve got to build a property that users can think of and go to and have a reliable experience for getting local information,” Polachek said. “It’s going to require an industry-wide effort to get that done.”

Polachek cited the November 2004 agreement between SBC and BellSouth to buy for $100 million as a positive step toward making directory publishers more relevant online. He said newspaper publishers should consider similar steps to protect their local advertising base.

“This is probably an early warning sign for the Yellow Pages and newspapers,” he said.