How important is the internet to purchasing decisions?

Online shopping resources such as reviews and product comparison sites play only a limited role on most consumers’ buying decisions, a new study suggests.

An American Life Project and Pew Internet survey of 2000 US adults reported by found that while many shoppers use the internet to narrow the range of possible products they will buy, it is not usually a big factor in the final decision to purchase.

Pew asked the survey respondents how important the internet was on decisions to buy music, mobile phones or rent apartments. Just 10% of the apartment renters and phone buyers said the internet had a major impact on their final purchase, with that number dropping to 7% for music.

Interestingly, a higher proportion of people – 22% for music and 12% for mobiles — ultimately bought their product over the internet, suggesting that some people see the web as a convenient shopping option but not a useful source of product information.

“The internet helps people eliminate irrelevant alternatives,” Pew associate director John Horrigan says. “The internet may influence the choice modestly, but has important consequences in getting better deals and in having a more focused search process along the way.”

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