January 5, 2006, 12:00 AM

Online buying increases across income groups, Retail Forward reports

65% of down market consumers bought online in December vs. 59% a year earlier; as did 76% of middle market consumers vs. 72% a year earlier; and 87% of up market consumers vs. 83% a year earlier, Retail Forward’s ShopperScape reports.

The propensity of shoppers across all income groups to buy online rose significantly in December 2005 compared to a year earlier, says the latest ShopperScape survey from consultants Retail Forward Inc. 79% of consumers in the survey said they bought gifts online this past December vs. 74% in December 2004.

The increase occurred across all income segments, ShopperScape reports. 65% of down market consumers (annual household income under $22,500) bought online vs. 59% a year earlier, as did 76% of middle market consumers ($22,501 to $75,000) vs. 72% a year earlier; and 87% of up market consumers vs. 83% a year earlier.

The proportion of consumers who shopped online was virtually unchanged from a year earlier, at 87% for all consumers vs. 86% a year earlier, 76% of down market (no change), 87% of middle market (86%) and 92% of up market (no change).

Retail Forward reports that while 48% of all online shoppers received free shipping offers during December, only 31% of down market households received free shipping offers vs. 60% of up market and 44% of middle market.

Online shoppers are not procrastinators, Retail Forward reports. 87% had completed their online shopping by Dec. 18, with 26% having finished by the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The ShopperScape survey also reports an uptick in consumers’ spending expectations in January. The Retail Forward Future Spending Index stands at 99.7, up from 97.3 in December, 96.8 in November and 94 in October.

"The positive outlook for the first month of the new year is the result of resurgent spending plans in the middle market income segment, which had been showing some restraint during the holiday months," said Steve Spiwak, economist with Retail Forward. "Better incomes, investments and home buying among these households, which account for nearly half of total spending, have triggered the expected improvement in spending for January."

The Retail Forward ShopperScape survey is conducted each month with a representative sample of 4,000 U.S. primary household shoppers. The current survey was conducted during the last week of December 2005.

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