July 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Recession-weary consumers turn to the Internet for bargains, Pew says

The deep economic downturn has more U.S. consumers turning to the Internet to find lower-cost items and services and to sell personal items online, according to new report from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

The deep economic downturn has more U.S. consumers turning to the Internet to find lower-cost items and services and to sell personal items online, according to new report from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

Bargain hunting was among the main activities of so-called online economic users, the 69% of all U.S. respondents and 88% of Internet users who have used the Internet for recession-related purposes. 67% of online economic users have used the Internet to find the lowest price available for something they needed to buy, Pew found.

However, the study found no notable difference among searches initiated by financially troubled households and those from economically stable households or among different income levels. Younger online economic users (ages 18-29) were especially active in seeking low prices, Pew says.

In addition, 40% of online economic users searched the Internet for cost-savings coupons, with those most severely effected by the recession more likely to seek coupons. The study also found that women were more likely than men (47% vs. 33%) to search for coupons. Similarly, middle-aged economic users were more likely than younger or older users to hunt for coupons online.

Consumers also turned to the Internet to get information on the cost of everyday purchases. Among online economic users, women were more likely than men (33% vs. 21%) to have searched for this information during the past year, and younger online economic users were more likely than older users. 32% of parents searched for information on how to spend less on everyday items, compared with 24% of non-parents.

Pew also found that 23% of online economic users have used auction sites or classified ad sites to sell personal items to raise money. However, there didn’t appear to be any economic drivers for this activity, with the employed and unemployed equally likely to have used the Internet to sell goods during the recession.

21% of respondents also said they have used the Internet to participate in online auctions, compared with 7% in March 2000.

Other recession-related activities of online economic users in the past year included:
• 52% have used the Internet to help them understand the nation’s economic problems.
• 41% sought information about available jobs.
• 27% sought tips about ways to earn money or explore prospects for getting a second job.
• 25% sought information about ways to improve their skills to qualify for better jobs.
• 22% sought material about unemployment and other government benefits.

“Internet users are on a dual quest in this recession,” says Lee Rainie, director and co-author of the report. “They are seeking highly practical advice about how to survive. And they are going online to gain understanding of what went wrong, and what policies might fix the economy.”

The report “The Internet and the Recession” is based on a national phone survey of 2,253 adults (those ages 18 and older), including 561 cell-phone interviews.

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