Working With the Net

Virtual Pet Research

Mogelonsky, Marcia, Working with the net.., Vol. 18, American Demographics, 04-01-1996, pp 8.


Everyone knows that Internet users are not typical Americans. They are younger, better-educated, and have higher-than-average incomes. It follows that they also have strong likes and dislikes when they spend money.

People who go online spend 91 percent more than their nonwired counterparts in office supply stores and 78 percent more in electronic stores, according to A.C. Nielsen. They also spend significantly more at book stores and through mail-order catalogs. Posting billboards on the information highway may be a way for businesses in these categories to compete for the attention of an important group of customers.

Online Americans spend considerably more than those without online access in many retail outlets, including department, home improvement, and music stores. Perhaps because of their high incomes, online users spend slightly less than their household share would indicate in discount, drug, and convenience stores.

Although they spend average amounts in grocery stores, online users can also buy food on one of the many new virtual supermarket options finding their way onto the Net. Households with access to the Internet spent an average of $2,073 in grocery stores between August 1994 and August 1995, according to Nielsen, just 4 percent more than those without access. But online users spent 18 percent more than those without access on baby food, 37 percent more on diapers, and 33 percent more on other baby needs.

As young heads of households, many Webheads are undoubtedly surfing the Net for child-rearing resources such as the Children's Medical Center--University of Virginia home page ( This service offers e-mail consultations about a host of childhood ailments. Or they may plan Junior's menu with the help of new food information available on the Gerber baby-food home page (

Young families are also why online service users also spend at least 15 percent more than their nonwired counterparts on breakfast foods, condiments, and pasta. They spend about 10 percent more on cereal, gum, snacks, and soup. They spend about the same as their less technologically sophisticated counterparts on pet food, but 17 percent more in specialty pet stores on discretionary items, such as pet toys and accessories. They may also be logging time at, a Web site that allows them to "adopt" a virtual dog with no feeding, no scooping, no fuss. Perhaps they play with the pet toys themselves.

Considering the hype that has surrounded the opening of "Internet Cafes" in major cities around the country, it is surprising that online users spend 10 percent less than offline consumers on coffee. On the other hand, young men are not the biggest coffee drinkers around, and those who are may satisfy their caffeine urges away from home while chatting with real or virtual friends at an Internet cafe. Many people who populate the Net prefer cooler beverages such as juice (on which they spend 18 percent more than nonwired people), soft drinks (13 percent more), and bottled water (15 percent more). Given their educational attainment, it is not so surprising that they spend 20 percent less than those without Internet access on tobacco.

It's clear that Internet users like to communicate and learn. It's still too soon for most businesses to confirm that a presence on the Net adds to the bottom line, but marketers may find it ultimately profitable to establish home pages. Old dogs wary of making the jump to a new medium don't have to learn all new tricks, either. Businesses are already posting discount coupons on the Net.

Webheads Buy Letterhead

Americans with online access at home are great customers for office-supply stores.

(percent by which primary computer users with online access outspent those without access in selected retail outlets, 1994-95)

Office-supply stores 91% Electronic stores 78 Bookstores 39 Mail-order catalogs 36 Department stores 29 Music/CD stores 25 Copyright 1996 by American Demographics, Inc.

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