Onward and upward for online retail

Online retail will spiral upward in the coming years as consumers get more comfortable on the web. Eleven million more Americans will start shopping online this year, driving online retail spending beyond $38 billion.

In a retail overview released Wednesday from Forrester Research, this growth will come as a result of an online retail environment in which buyers' profiles and the product categories are vastly different from those seen a year ago.

"When we started surveying online consumers three years ago, web buyers were a homogeneous group consisting of affluent males who used the net to purchase software," said Christopher M. Kelley, associate analyst at Forrester.

"As new web shoppers -- who increasingly resemble the offline population -- become more comfortable shopping online, their net spending habits will mirror those currently seen with experienced web shoppers," he said.

Forrester sees two factors that it said will drive the rise of online retail in the next year.

First: new product categories. Shoppers are broadening their reach, dipping into travel, computer hardware, and consumer electronics more than ever before.

Second: new bodies. While the core of online shoppers are generally affluent young men, up-and-coming web buyers are more likely to be female, younger, and less affluent than more experienced online shoppers. The study noted that, for the first time, more than half of new buyers today are female.

What holds back e-commerce? Fear of releasing credit card information remains the greatest sticking point among consumers who do not purchase on the net, the study found. Fifty-two percent of online households do not shop online due to fear of stolen credit card information and the distribution of personal information.

The news on email marketing is mixed. Some 95 percent of web buyers got offers or promotions via email, mostly from online coupon and promotion companies, who have targeted shoppers and non-buyers alike. On the down side: 32 percent of email targets said they delete most marketing messages unread.


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