June 11, 2002, 12:00 AM

The Internet far outstrips other media in product research, says new study

85% of online customers use the Internet to research products; the next highest category, at 33%, is friends or relatives, says the latest quarterly iCustomer Observer survey from Valentine Radford.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

The web has crept deeply into online consumers’ shopping habits, the latest consumer survey from marketing company Valentine Radford reveals. Among customers who are online, 85% use the Internet to research products; the next highest category for product research, at 33%, is friends or relatives, says the quarterly iCustomer Observer survey of 5,000 Internet shoppers. The typical respondent is 41 years old with a household income of $45,000.

In addition, there’s little doubt from the survey, which was conducted in February, that the web has a major impact on offline shopping. Only 6% of respondents said they never obtain product information on the web then buy offline. 29% do so very often or often, 44%, sometimes, and 21% seldom.

Influence of the web extends beyond the product information that retailers, manufacturers or shopping comparison sites offer, Charles Curtis, chairman and CEO of Valentine Radford, told Catalog Conference attendees. “Forty percent of consumers will check a chat room before they make a purchase,” Curtis said. Curtis discourages his clients from trying to surreptitiously influence the discussion in chat rooms. “But it’s OK to go in as who you are and share your knowledge,” he said. He cited the case of a car salesman who frequents a chat room for the brand he sells. That salesman can alert customers to when certain models will come in or about how to deal with issues that others in the chat room raise. As a result, Curtis said, the Florida-based salesman has developed a national clientele.

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