Pew Report Questions Internet’s Influence

In May, 2007 report, the Pew Internet & American Life Project issued a report entitled “A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users.” It organized Americans into various categories and subcategories by engagement with technology. One of the striking findings was the following: “49% of Americans only occasionally use modern gadgetry and many others bristle at electronic connectivity.”

A similar finding was just issued by Parks & Associates in a report on US technology usage:

Roughly one-fifth of all U.S. heads-of-household have never used e-mail, according to National Technology Scan, a forthcoming study from Parks Associates. This annual phone survey of U.S. households found 20 million households are without Internet access, approximately 18% of all U.S. households.

These findings suggest that there is a chasm between the technology reliant and those who are disengaged from technology. For those of us whose jobs are tied to the Internet (probably everyone reading this) it’s hard to imagine 20% of US adults (assuming the accuracy of the extrapolation) have never used email.

But in a new report (on shopping) out yesterday, Pew questions the primacy of the Internet’s impact on purchase decisions: “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.” The survey focused on music, cell phones and real estate purchases. The conclusions of the report are nuanced but generally fly in the face of a good many earlier studies that cite the growing influence of the Internet on consumer purchase behavior. Here are the top-line data from the Pew survey (n=2,271):

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.

The “bottom line” conclusion is the following: “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.”

Pew cellphone source

Pew cellphone impact

How do we explain the discrepancy between these survey data and those that have have come before (from BIGResearch, Yahoo, comScore, etc.)? Here are a few thoughts:

  • The Pew methodology uses telephone surveys (landline and cell), which are going to capture a broader range of respondents than online surveys to some degree. Online surveys tend to magnify the influence of the Internet by their very nature. You may also get a higher representation of technology resisters and non-adopters among the landline respondents in a telephone survey. But this is conjecture on my part.
  • The focus on “major impact” may necessarily diminish the perceived influence of the Internet.

My takeaway from these data and the data I cite at the top of this post is that we’re living in a very fragmented media world, where no individual medium holds sway over consumers. In addition, to reach target audiences marketers have to really understand those audiences and their media consumption patterns much more today than ever. Some audiences will rely on the Internet more heavily and some on traditional media sources. To some degree that reliance will depend on economic, educational, geographic and ethnic variables.

3 Responses to “Pew Report Questions Internet’s Influence”

  1. Tim Cohn Says:

    Looks like discretionary income and the digital divide to me.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Undoubtedly there’s some of that.

  3. NearbyNow por hacer disponible su buscador local de productos | Search Engine Land en Español Says:

    […] Pew Internet & American Life Project informó recientemente que internet juega un rol táctico y en menor  medida influyente en el comportamiento de compra de […]

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