January 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

The affluent online penny-pincher

The largest concentration of visitors to comparison shopping sites is in the over-$60,000 annual income category.

Online shopping has mirrored many of the patterns found in retail offline. But that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to comparison shopping, according to new data from comScore Networks Inc.’s Media Metrix division. The bargain-hunter online is less likely to be a penny-pincher with limited disposable than a well-heeled consumer with access to better technology in the form of high-speed connections, Media Metrix found.

The largest concentration of visitors to comparison shopping sites in November-some 13 million unique visitors-was among those with household incomes of greater than $60,000. They represented 55% of all unique visitors to comparison shopping sites during the month. And though those with incomes of $75,000 represented a population smaller in number than those with incomes of $65,000 or more, a higher percentage of this smaller population comparison shops, underscoring a trend of greater use of comparison shopping sites as income levels rise.

“While many might intuitively believe that those with less money would be more inclined to rely upon comparison shopping sites on the Internet, the opposite is true,” Media Metrix concludes.

Despite a broad web universe of deal-hunting sites, online shoppers concentrate their activity at only a handful of them. Only eight such sites logged in more than 1 million visitors during the month of November, the most popular being Dealtime.com with almost 10 million unique visitors for the month.

High-speed Internet connections correlated with the tendency to comparison-shop the web, the data suggest. In November, broadband users as a group were 48% more likely than the average Internet user to visit such sites, while dial-up users were 23% less likely to use comparison-shopping sites.

Overall, one in four online shoppers visited comparison-shopping sites during the month, according to the data. “Three of online shopping’s most important value propositions are price, selection and convenience, and given the growth reported in comScore e-commerce sales data, these attributes certainly have befitted online retailers,” says Media Metrix. “While many Web retailers offers these benefits, comparison shopping sites magnify them.”

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