February 27, 2001, 12:00 AM

Why web shopping estimates vary

Estimates of consumer spending online vary so greatly because many such surveys are based on consumer recall of behavior which can overstate or understate actual behavior by a significant margin.

Estimates of consumer spending online vary so greatly because many such surveys are based on consumer recall of behavior which can overstate or understate actual behavior by a significant margin, Kevin Garton, vice president of marketing of ComScore Networks, told the Technology Leadership Forum of the eTail 2001 conference. ComScore maintains a network of 1.5 million online consumers who have agreed to let ComScore track their behavior on the web. Curious as to why there was such great disparity among all the services that reports web shopping, ComScore conducted a survey of a subset of its network members and compared their answers to the behavior they exhibited on the web. The results: Consumers over-report their buying by 55% and under-report the number of sites they visit by 11%. They overestimate buying because when asked about their behavior over a certain period, consumers tend to remember from a longer time period than asked. "If you ask what they did in December, most people are likely to also include November and even October; most people are unable to compress time in their minds," Garton says. As for the number of sites visited, consumers may not even know they are visiting a new site when they click on an ad or a link, he says. "This is one of many issues-but a very important one-that has led to these overestimates," Garton says.

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