Ask people what they shop for over the Internet, and automotive products come in second - behind computer hardware, according to Nielsen Media Research in New York.
During the last half of 1996, about 2.5 million people shopped for vehicles or auto parts over the Net, according to a CommerceNet/Nielsen Media Research survey conducted last December and January. That represents 12.7 percent of the people who used the Internet to shop for products.
The number of shoppers who purchase online is elusive. When Nielsen asked the shoppers if they bought goods and services online, 125,000 said they purchased automotive products.
'We don't check whether the transaction was actually conducted online. We're just going by what (respondents) tell us,' said Jerome Samson, director of technical and business strategy at Nielsen Media Research in Clearwater, Fla. 'They could have just done comparative pricing or made an appointment with a dealer.'
Nielsen's research shows that people are uneasy about making purchases over the Internet - mostly because they do not trust electronic payments.
'I believe that most of the sales were parts. Brokers and dealers are using the Internet as a parts exchange,' said Kevin Noonan, client service executive for Nielsen's interactive services in New York.
People are becoming more comfortable shopping for products online. The percentage of Web surfers seeking product information has doubled to 39 percent, from 19 percent in 1995, Nielsen found. But just 15 percent of those Internet users purchased something online.
The research also shows:
Forty-two percent of online users are women, compared to 34 percent in 1995.
Internet use doubled between August 1995 - when Nielsen did its first survey - and January 1997. About 50.6 million people in the United States and Canada - or one out of four people over age 16 - have used the Internet in the last six months.
The CommerceNet/Nielsen Media Research survey was based on telephone interviews with 6,500 randomly selected people age 16 or older.