June 2, 2003, 12:00 AM

Shopping behavior varies with race, but demographics is better predictor

As a group, U.S. Asians lead in embracing the web. Yet shoppers are more likely to spend based on income, age and gender than on race, Forrester says.

Attitudes about shopping and technology vary widely by race, according to new findings from Forrester Research Inc. Asians are the ethnic group most likely to be online, research products online and buy online of any group surveyed in research that also covered, besides Whites, Black and Hispanic consumers, Forrester found.

78% of U.S. Asians polled have a PC at home, versus 70% of Whites, 45% of Blacks, and 58% of Hispanics. 79% of Asians were online, versus 67% of Whites, 42% of Blacks, and 57% of Hispanics. 65% of Asians research products online, compared with 47% of Whites, 24% of Blacks, and 27% of Hispanics; while 48% of Asians buy online, versus 35% of Whites, 14% of Blacks, and 27% of Hispanics.

Yet while race helps predict some attitudes, in most cases it takes a back seat to socioeconomic status in forecasting shopping behavior across all channels, making race alone a red herring for retailers, says Forrester analyst Chris Kelley. Forrester’s regression analysis shows a stronger correlation between shopper atttitudes and their household income, age and gender than between shopper attitudes and their ethnic group.

For example, consumers` willingness to pay more for products that save time and hassles is better predicted by income, Forrester says, underscoring that as consumers become wealthier, they are significantly more likely to pay more for a product that provides convenience. That`s why Asians -- at an average household income of $61,200, the highest of the four ethnic groups surveyed by Forrester -- are more willing to spend more for products that save time and trouble than Black or Hispanic households, which had lower average household incomes in Forrester`s survey. 50% of Asians say they`d buy prodcuts for that reason, a higher percentage than any other group.

"Retailers need to flip ethnic marketing on its head,” says Kelley. “Retailers will more effectively tap into racial minority groups’ spending if they speak to their demographics first and then reflect their racial differences second.”

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