The Internet has now become a significant source of information for Net users planning a purchase, according to a survey published this week.
The report, from BMRB International, on Internet use in the UK, reveals that 48 per cent of users rely on the medium to provide information when making a purchasing decision.
E-commerce is also making headway. The average UK total spend in the past six months is 195 per user, up from 183 in December 1997. This represents a revenue increase of 72m to 187m, compared with 115m for the same period last year.
Concerns over credit card security are often cited as the main inhibitor to the growth of e-commerce. But the survey shows these concerns are diminishing. Of those who had made a credit card purchase online, 70 per cent felt it was a secure medium, compared with 57 per cent of non-purchasers who still have concerns over security.
Buying patterns are also changing, with purchases of books now outstripping those of computer software. Over the past six months, 30 per cent of users have bought books through the Internet, compared with 29 per cent buying software. Software sales accounted for a massive 43 per cent of purchases in the last half of 1997.
The change does not signify a decline in the online market for software but reflects a broadening of the user base and the entry online of more mainstream users.
Home users now account for the largest group, at 42 per cent, with 85 per cent of them making an online purchase in the past six months.
The Internet remains a male dominated medium but the number of female users is steadily increasing. Women accounted for 38 per cent of those using the medium in the past six months.
The report predicts that women will have a growing influence on the Internet, shifting the main interest areas of Web users away from subjects such as technology, sport and business to consumer affairs, dieting and quizzes, for example.
In terms of current popularity, individual company sites are top of the list, with 56 per cent of users reporting that they have visited one in the past month.
These are followed by individual product sites, attracting 48 per cent, and those where software may be downloaded. Sites offering news and travel information attracted just 32 per cent of users.