Net-Savvy Consumers Steal the Deals

The shopper of the future has arrived.

Armed with a cell-phone, an internet connection and online coupons, a new class of shopper has emerged that is a political and economic breed apart from traditional shoppers. The CNBC All-America Economic Survey identified what we call “net-savvy” shoppers, comprising about 39 percent of the population.

Cyber Monday
Cyber Monday

We defined Net savvy shoppers as anyone who said they’ll do either most of their holiday shopping online or almost all their shopping online. In fact, about 70 percent of these consumers say the Internet is their No. 1 way to shop year-round, and an equal number say it's their top way to make holiday purchases.

Compare that to the 44 percent of the public whom we call “traditionalists” who don’t seem to do much clicking at all for their gifts around holiday season or anytime of the year for that matter.

But the differences between the Net savvy shopper and the traditionalists goes beyond just the Internet. When Net savvy shoppers leave the house to make a purchase, they don’t leave technology far behind. The survey found that 41 percent use mobile devices in stores to look for better prices, compared with 24 percent of the general public and just 10 percent for traditional buyers.

“This group of Net shoppers really are showing us the wave of the future,” said Jay Campbell, a vice president of Hart Research Associates, which conducts the CNBC survey along with Bill McInturff. “As generations that are computer savvy get older, it seems likely that they will continue their online shopping habits, and the youngest generations will do more and more shopping with their smart phones. Brick-and-mortar stores will have to step up their game to get people in the door.”

The survey found that 27 percent of Americans plan to do most or all their shopping online, up two percentage points from last year and the highest mark for the choice in the five-year history of the survey.

It is now the second most popular way to shop, taking away the No. 2 spot from department stores, like Macy’s or Sears, which was chosen by 19 percent of the public, a decline from 25 percent a year ago. Big box stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy remain the top choice destination, but their share dropped to 42 percent from 48 percent a year ago.

Who are these Net-savvy consumers? They tend to be wealthier, male and younger. About half of shoppers 18-49 years old are net savvy vs. just 16 percent of those aged 65 or older. And while almost two-thirds of net savvy shoppers have money in the stock market, only 38 percent of traditionalists are invested. Net savvy shoppers say they’ll spend, on average, $859 on gifts this holiday season. That’s 34 percent more than the $640 traditionalists plan to dish out.

But they also don’t mind a deal and they use the latest technology to find one. The CNBC survey found that 16 percent of net savvy shoppers use online coupon services such as Groupon or Living Social, compared with 9 percent of the public overall and just 5 percent of traditional shoppers.

Net savvy shoppers don’t just use a computer. Slightly more than a quarter of them have bought something other than music, apps and e-books using their phone or mobile device. Only eight percent of traditionalists have done the same and 16 percent of the general public.

And mobile devices such as those sold by Apple are high on the list of gifts Net-savvy shoppers like to give. One out of five will give an Apple product as a gift — that’s twice as many as traditionalists.

It’s unclear if the use of technology has anything to do with it, but Net-savvy shoppers are less pessimistic. While 28 percent of traditional shoppers believe the economy will get worse over the next year, just 18 percent of net savvy shoppers are downbeat on the outlook. Slightly more than one-quarter of both groups expect the economy to improve.