New wave of home surfing

Home use of the Internet has almost quadrupled in the past two years, with more than one in ten British adults – 5.1 million people – now able to go online.

And such growth looks likely to continue. A further 2.3 million consumers are either “certain” or “very likely” to go online in the next six months, according to the latest Internet Report by Continental Research.

Another 3.3 million – seven per cent of the UK adult population – have access to the Internet at work. A further 1.9 million are likely to gain access within the next six months.

However, Colin Shaddick, a director of Continental Research, points out that, while there has been remarkable growth in both the number of people who have access to the Internet (particularly at home) and the amount of time they spend online, use in the UK still lags far behind the US. According to research by Continental’s US sister company, Northstar Interactive, 31 per cent of US adults have regular access to the Internet.

While UK Internet users are still predominantly male and under 35, a greater proportion of regular users now come from other age groups, notably 45 to 54. Continental points out that people in this age group are more likely to have computer-literate children over the age of ten.

Last year, the average household income of a regular Internet user was 35,600, compared with 31,000 in 1997. The national household average is 17,500.

The main reason frequent users go online is to gain access to e-mail, with their work coming second and “random surfing” third.

With the increasing numbers of people accessing the Internet from home, it comes as no surprise that the split between time spent online for work or academic purposes and leisure pursuits changed radically last year. In 1997, 58 per cent of the time people spent online was related to work or academia. Last year, that figure fell to 48 per cent.

Continental says the biggest change has been among women, and people aged 35 to 44. A year ago, both groups spent two-thirds of their time online involved in work or academia, but by the end of last year the split was even.

Marketers looking to reach a new generation of Internet-literate consumers should forget about advertising on television, in magazines or even on the Internet itself – and instead buy airtime on the radio.

Continental’s research suggests TV viewing and magazine readership among regular users of the Internet has fallen, while listening to the radio has increased significantly.

Shaddick observes: “Listening to the radio appears to be a complementary activity to Internet use, with 25 per cent of respondents claiming they listened more than before they started using the Internet.”

There has also been a slight increase – five per cent – in newspaper readership. Shaddick suggests this could be because of the number of national titles that publish regular Internet supplements. People have also cut back on the amount of time they spend watching videos, making phone calls and sleeping.

Advertising on the Internet appears to be having less effect, the research found. In 1997, respondents claimed to look at (as opposed to click onto) about 24 per cent of banner ads. By last year, this had fallen to 18 per cent. Although an increasing number of banner ads are appearing on the Internet, more are being skipped than a year ago.

The changing demographics of Internet users has started to affect the products and services people buy online. Nearly four out of ten regular users claim to have bought something online, slightly more than in 1997. Software, records/CDs and travel tickets are the top three purchases. Women are far more likely to buy music, entertainment tickets, books and clothes online, which indicates these areas are likely to see significant growth in the near future.

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