Using the Internet to research product purchases has become a common practice for many people, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. The nonprofit organization found that 58% of Americans perform online research of products and services they are considering buying, up from 49% in 2004.
Furthermore, the number of people who research purchases on any given day has spiked from 15% of adults in September 2007 to 21% three years later. The study also found that more people are also doing more than just gathering information about products online -- they are increasingly providing it as well.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of the 3,001 adults surveyed between August 9 and Sept. 13 said they had posted comments or reviews about items or services they bought. "Many Americans begin their purchasing experience by doing online research to compare prices, quality, and the reviews of other shoppers," said Jim Jansen, senior fellow at the Pew Research Center.
Among Internet users, 78% said that they at least occasionally research products and 32% have posted comments about products online.
Not surprisingly, the willingness to share information and opinions on products coincides with the rise of social networking. Nearly half (46%) of Americans use social sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, up from just 5% in February 2005.
The new data on product research is consistent with other Pew findings on e-commerce trends. For example, the portion of Americans who buy products online rose from 36% in May 2000 to 52% in May 2010. Likewise, the percentage making travel reservations or buying travel services like airline tickets, hotel rooms, or rental cars has risen from 22% to 52% in the last decade.
Among other key findings in the latest survey, there was no significant gender difference in people conducting product research online, with 77% of men and 79% of women doing so. But a lower proportion of African-Americans (66%) turned to the Web for product information than whites (81%) or Hispanics (76%).
People at higher income and educational levels were also more likely to do research online, with 87% of college graduates and 88% of those earning $75,000 or more turning to the Internet for help on potential purchases.