Study: More Consumers Shopping Online

There may be reason for some retailers to be hopeful about the upcoming, expected-to-be-quite-gloomy holiday shopping season–if your brand sells products on the Web that is.

According to new @Plan report issued by Nielsen Online, online shopping is very much mainstream behavior, as 78 percent of adult online consumers purchased something on the Internet over the last six months. Perhaps not surprisingly, travel was the top online shopping category, as 38 percent of users made some sort of travel related purchase over the past six months according to Nielsen’s latest @Plan report, which is based on surveys of close to 36,000 U.S. Internet users 18 and older.

While credit card management and online banking placed second and third in Nielsen’s survey, more encouraging to retail brands are the large number of users who continue to shop for products on the Web despite the rough economic conditions of late. Nielsen found that 40 million unique users—or 28 percent of the online audience–purchased at least one item of clothing on the Web over the past sixth months. Similarly, 26 percent of users purchased a book (37 million users). Hotel reservations (18 percent), auction purchases (16 percent) and events (14 percent) all rated high in the report.

Whether this trend toward more regular online shopping translates to more holiday shoppers turning to the Web for bargains this season remains to be seen. But clearly the majority of consumer barriers and concerns about online shopping have been lifted. “Most consumers see online retail as a primary benefit of the Internet,” said Nachi Lolla, research director, commerce, Nielsen Online. “The sheer convenience of being able to comparison shop from your home or office has become all but irresistible.”

Lolla continued: “Possible early concerns about online security have been sufficiently addressed, and consistent on-time delivery and reasonable shipping costs have bolstered consumer confidence. The challenge for retailers is no longer how to lure shoppers online, but how to differentiate their brand among all others. Heading into this competitive holiday shopping season, selection, price and customer service are the key areas retailers can shine.”

As for which online retailers have drawn the most shopping traffic over the last six months, Nielsen’s report listed many of the usual suspects. Rounding out the top five are eBay (49.2 million visitors), Amazon (48.3 million) Wal-Mart (25.3), Target (23.8) and Netflix (14.3).

The Nielsen Co. is the parent company of