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Defining the Online Shopper

Jeffrey Grau
Defining the Online Shopper Jeffrey Grau

Earlier this week, eMarketer released new projections for ecommerce growth in the U.S., estimating that online retail sales and leisure travel sales totaled a combined $118 million in 2004, a gain of more than 25 percent over 2003. eMarketer projects that ecommerce growth will slow from 2004’s rate, but will continue to register healthy double-digit gains through 2008.

One of the keys to growth in online commerce is the number of online shoppers -- those who browse, research or compare products online, if not necessarily buy. Understanding who these shoppers are is, in turn, crucial to marketers looking to sell online.

The demographic profile of the online shopper has evolved since the early days of online shopping. In its infancy, online shopping was the purview of well-educated, high-earning, 20- to 30-year-old single white males. Today, online shoppers are closer to resembling the greater U.S. population.

Online shopping is one of the most popular internet activities and online buying one of the fastest-growing internet activities. According to “A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age,” a September 2004 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), searching for product/service information is the second-most-popular online activity after email or instant messaging. In 2003, 76.5 percent of internet users ages 15 and over indicated they researched products online.

To define the universe of online shoppers, eMarketer incorporates data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and numerous research firms and trade associations. The data is compared and contrasted with an eye toward fitting it together to create an accurate picture of consumer demand. Macroeconomic political and technological trends are also considered for their impact in building forecasts.

The basic building block in eMarketer’s ecommerce model is the internet user population. By the end of this year, nearly 60 percent of Americans, or 175.4 million people, will be internet users, eMarketer estimates. This projection is extrapolated from U.S. Department of Commerce Census Bureau internet user estimates obtained in November 2003. eMarketer’s 2003 and 2004 figures are comparatively higher because the Department of Commerce study starts with an earlier age base and has a more inclusive definition of who is an internet user than most of the other research firms.

Opinions vary among research firms over the age at which young people seriously begin to buy online. eMarketer maintains the view that the population of online buyers consists of individuals ages 14 and older who use the internet. While some younger internet users are able to purchase online with the help of adults, the dollar amount of these purchases is insignificant compared to total online sales.

In 2005, eMarketer estimates there will be 151.7 million internet users ages 14 and older, accounting for two-thirds of the total 14 and older population. Annual growth rates are declining as internet penetration reaches a saturation point.

Data from Harris Interactive closely supports eMarketer’s conclusion that age 14 is the threshold for online buying. As young people enter the early teen years of 13 to 15, their online spending increases dramatically. Preteens are less able to make online purchases, mainly because parents forbid it. The data also shows that much offline youth spending is influenced by online research. An interesting phenomenon captured by Harris in this study is that online spending decreases for 16- and 17-year-olds before picking up again after high school. Harris finds that 16- and 17-year-olds view shopping as a means to exercise independence from parents and as a social activity to be enjoyed with friends. Generally, by the time an individual reaches 18, the convenience of shopping alone online replaces the desire to shop with friends.

In contrast, Teenage Research Unlimited finds that the 16- to 17-year-old age group is the threshold for online buying. Its data shows that online buying jumps from 36 percent to 54 percent by the time teenagers reach that age range, then levels off at 56 percent for 18- and 19-year-olds.

Based on estimates from leading research firms and from internet usage trends, eMarketer estimates that today about three out of four internet users ages 14 and older shop online for retail products and services. This translates into 114.2 million online shoppers. This year the number of online shoppers is expected to increase by 4.4 percent over 2004. In 2003, the annual growth rate was 7.6 percent. By 2008 it will slow down to 2.6 percent, as most internet users who plan to shop online will already be doing so.

This article is drawn from “E-Commerce in the US: Retail Trends,” an eMarketer report. Jeffrey Grau is a Senior Analyst for eMarketer.

The third installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean," another wildly popular franchise, takes an entirely different approach: the immersive experience. The "Pirates" films are steeped with pirate lore from literary sources, as well as from the beloved Disneyland attraction. Taking a cue from its theme park attraction daddy, "Pirates 3" is a complete, self-contained immersive experience. The site is visually rich and filled with cinematic discovery elements that guide the user through the familiar characters and introduces new villains and exciting set pieces.

Like all sequels -- especially sequels to sequels -- with the blessing of a significant pre-existing awareness comes the curse of possible over-exposure. Disney's "Pirates" site succeeds in walking that fine line (or gangplank) between creating a truly effective extension of the film and losing some older users with shorter attention spans and lower frustration thresholds.

The take-away: Although Jack Sparrow is the main attraction, the franchise itself has become the character.

In our never-ending quest to try new things, and then overuse them to death until we stumble upon the next new thing, right now, we all love the age gate. The age gate has become a kind of guilt reduction tool for the savvy marketer that doesn't want to deliberately offer racier content to the under-18 crowd. All the lascivious, naked, gory and otherwise cool stuff goes behind the gate, and you can't see it unless you fill out an age verification form that is corroborated with a DMV database. (This, apparently, works better and more efficiently than the CDC TB screen at the Canadian border.)

Way over at the other end of the scale is a little movie with a big heart called "Knocked Up." No robots, pirates or super powers here, just a very human story about a slacker dude and the nice girl he gets pregnant. Universal's site is completely character driven. It lets the comedy of its flawed characters and situations tell the story and how the mismatched couple grow up together in spite of their outrageous differences.

The sense with this project was the more video, the better. In fact, there is an entire age-gated video section (the Edit Bay) that is hosted by director Judd Apatow and contains raunchy deleted scenes, outtakes and DVD-style content that is really funny. With a film like this, engagement is everything (especially to a pregnant girl… ha!) So the site experience, the art design and the content all were designed to be as relatable and as resonant as possible. EPT test loaders, refrigerator magnets and candid-style photography all served to extend the film's character online with maximum resonance. And yes, for the record, my company Jetset Studios worked on this project, so I may be biased, but it can be used as an example of character driving the site experience, and it will no doubt be the gold standard for years to come.

The take-away: Video is a powerful ally that should absolutely be used to engage an audience, especially when the subject matter is laugh-out-loud funny, and/or involves slackers and pregnant hot chicks.

Campaign: "Real Beauty Sketches"
Creative agency: Ogilvy & Mather Brasil
2013 True Reach: 133,548,209 views

The biggest new campaign of 2013 is from Dove, a veteran of video storytelling that scored its biggest success ever in April with "Real Beauty Sketches." A continuation of the Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty," which has been running since 2004, this emotional campaign questions women's self-image with the help of a trained FBI sketch artist.

Aided by more than 200 copies and derivatives that were uploaded by consumers, it topped 100 million views within a month of its release. While overall sentiment for the campaign -- that all women are beautiful and, yet, too critical of themselves -- was positive, some critics felt that the ad patronized and helped to cement old standards of beauty. But that debate didn't hurt the brand; the media coverage that ensued only helped the brand to lengthen the life of the video and drive views up to more than 133.5 million.

Campaign: "Chrome: For..."
2013 True Reach: 95,284,452 views

While many brands have used online video as an opportunity to create long-form branded content -- outside of the traditional 30-second TV spot -- Google decided to go unconventional with a 16-second spot for its Chrome campaign. "Chrome: For..." encouraged users to download the browser with eight different spots created from video sourced entirely on YouTube. The most popular of the spots featured a clip from "Family Guy" where baby Stewie is yelling for his mom, Lois. It alone generated more than 23.3 million views. Another spot shows a baby chewing on a laptop, while a third shows a cat cuddling a laptop. In total the campaign has amassed more than 95.2 million views.

Volvo Trucks
Campaign: "Live Test"
Creative agency: Forsman & Bodenfors
2013 True Reach: 74,701,043 views

While most campaigns on the list have had months to accumulate views, Volvo Trucks "Live Test" has topped more than 74.7 million views in less than a month. Released on Nov. 13, the spot features a nimble Jean-Claude Van Damme who performs the splits between two Volvo FM trucks as they drive backwards.

While the majority of the campaigns views can be attributed to the brand's original video -- the stunt, a teaser, and a behind-the-scenes clip -- there were more than 13 million views attributed to spoofs of the campaigns, like one starring Channing Tatum and another featuring Rob Ford. As the campaign shows no signs of slowing down, it's likely that it will surpass several other campaigns on this list before the end of the year.

Campaign: "Baby & Me"
Creative agency: BETC Euro RSCG
2013 True Reach: 72,946,444 views

The Evian babies returned this year and to great fanfare. In "Baby & Me," an adult catches his reflection in a bus window and sees a baby version of himself staring back. When he comes across a store window, he and his baby reflection start dancing.

The campaign was released in the middle of April and generated 44.4 million views by the end of the month. Early success of the campaign can be attributed to the popularity of 2009's "Live Young" -- one of the most viral campaigns of all time -- and that this campaign was billed as its sequel. Since April, the brand has continued to accrue views with the assistance of more than 300 copies and derivatives that were uploaded by viewers. Today, its views top more than 72.9 million views.

Campaign:"Magna Carta Holy Grail"
Creative agency: 72andSunny Los Angeles
2013 True Reach: 57,200,234 views

Samsung makes two appearances on the list, both with campaigns that feature prominent recording artists. "Magna Carta Holy Grail" promised Galaxy users free access to Jay-Z's new album of the same name three days before it came out. The spot features behind-the-scenes footage of Jay-Z in the recording studio, backed with tracks from the new album.

The main piece of creative, a three-minute short film, was premiered during the NBA finals and then launched online. Like most music videos, the campaign benefitted heavily from copies posted by viewers. More than 200 copies have helped the campaign generate 57.2 million views since its release in mid-June.

Miami HEAT
Campaign: "Harlem Shake Miami HEAT Edition"
2013 True Reach: 54,778,050 views

The Harlem Shake took the internet by storm at the beginning of 2013. Many brands created their own versions of the meme, but no brand mastered it quite like the Miami HEAT. Captains LeBron James and Dwayne Wade produced the Heat's video -- still its most successful piece of content to date -- that features the former dressed as a king and the latter wearing a bear head. Other players featured dancing around the locker room include Mario Chalmers as Super Mario, Chris Andersen as a bird, Chris Bosh in a bathrobe and cowboy hat, and Ray Allen as the phantom of the locker room.

The Heat's video was just one of the more than 500 editions that helped the Harlem Shake meme reach 1 billion views by the end of March. It accounts for 54.7 million of those 1 billion views.

5-Hour Energy
Campaign: "5-Hour Energy Helps Amazing People"
2013 True Reach: 52,898,701 views

5-Hour Energy is known for its in-house videos that claim the drink gets rid of "that 2:30 feeling." But over the summer, the energy drink company took a different approach to its branded video with its campaign, "5-Hour Energy Helps Amazing People." The campaign is comprised of 17 episodes, each of which highlights a person who is doing great things in his or her community.

One episode, for example, highlights Michelle Jackson, who left her corporate job to found the Connor Creek Food Pantry and help feed her neighbors in Osborn, Detroit. When the lease for the Connor Creek Food Pantry ended, she couldn't afford to renew or find a new location, until 5-Hour Energy presented her with the check for $50,000 to continue her work. The campaign had now reached 52.8 million views.

Comic Relief
Campaign: "Red Nose Day 2013"
2013 True Reach: 51,217,585 views

Red Nose Day 2013 is a fundraising event put on by Comic Relief, a British non-profit. The organization launched a massive video campaign in the lead-up to its March 15 live telethon. It created an astounding 250 pieces of original content with celebrity stars like Jessie J, Ricky Gervais, and Russell Brand, among others. The most viral videos of the bunch, however, were those that featured One Direction. The boy band's videos drew in more than 19.7 million of the campaign's total 51.2 million views.

Campaign: "PlayStation 4 2013"
2013 True Reach: 51,050,581 views

Sony launched its campaign for the PlayStation 4 in February, long before it would be unveiled at E3 on June 10. The 39-second teasers for the PS4 only show fuzzy glimpses of the console, and the first full video only highlights the games available on the PS4. Yet despite never showing the console, the PS4 campaign began to rack up views. The campaign has amassed more than 600 copies and pieces of derivative content since its launch.

Views of "PlayStation 4" have rapidly increased since the console went on sale in mid-November; it now tops 75.3 million views. If campaign performance is indicative of sales, that's good news for Sony, which handily beat out Microsoft's campaign for the Xbox One with its 51 million views.

Campaign: "Looking 4 Myself"
Agency: Huge
2013 True Reach: 50,762,364 views

June was a big month for Samsung. Not only did it release "Magna Carta Holy Grail," but also it released "Looking 4 Myself," starring Usher. Directed by Rich Lee, the 2:28 minute film promotes Samsung's Smart TV using Usher's song "Looking 4 Myself." The video sees the face-off of two Ushers, as "down-to-earth" Usher seeks revenge against his "celebrity" alter ego after fame destroys his relationship.

While the video tells the story of Usher's song, it also cleverly incorporates the Smart TV's unique "motion control" technology. For example, the film starts with Usher looking at photos of himself and his ex on the monitor, using the motion controls to zoom in. Even some of the moves used in the fight scene were specially choreographed to be moves that consumers can also use on their Smart TVs. Today, the campaign has generated 50.7 million views.

Mallory Russell is content editor at Visible Measures.

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