Internet Use Sets Record in October, Raising Holiday Shopping Hopes

Internet usage in the United States climbed to record levels in October, raising hopes for a strong holiday shopping season, two Web research firms said Tuesday.

Both Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI) and Nielsen//NetRatings (Nasdaq: NTRT) reported record numbers of unique users surfing the Web during the month.

“The overall health of the Internet is solid in spite of the current economic conditions and recent national events,” NetRatings vice president of analytical services Sean Kaldor said. “We are establishing a firm base for stable growth of holiday e-commerce traffic.”

Over 100 Million

NetRatings pegged the number of Web users at 115 million, a 4 percent increase over September and a 15 percent spike over October 2000.

Jupiter counted 102 million active surfers, the first time ever its tally topped the 100 million level.

NetRatings announced in October that it would acquire Jupiter in a stock-and-cash deal worth US$71.2 million.

E-tailers Gain

Web retailers are benefiting from the traffic surge, the firms said. Jupiter found that by improving 4.9 percent over September, online retail malls were the third fastest growing Internet segment, behind only movie sites and entertainment and gaming sites.

The online gifts and flowers segment was also among the top gainers, posting 3 percent growth for the month, Jupiter said.

More and More

Additionally, the potential audience for Web merchants is growing steadily, according to NetRatings, and potential consumers are staying online longer as well.

On average, surfers spent 19 hours on the Internet in October, NetRatings said, a 9 percent increase over a year ago.

Americans are also accessing the Internet more frequently, according to Net Ratings, averaging 35 sessions in October. That figure marks a 6 percent year-over-year jump.

In the Spirit

Both research firms found heavy use of patriotic and spiritual sites, which they attributed to the aftermath of the September 11th attacks and the ensuing war in Afghanistan.

Among the top “newcomer” sites tracked by Jupiter were several flag retailers, for instance. Several humor-related sites also saw large gains.

“Online behavior has consistently mirrored public sentiment in the five years that we’ve been measuring the Internet, and this appears to be as true during October as ever,” said Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research at New York-based Jupiter.

In September, visits to online news sites skyrocketed, with more than half of all Web surfers saying they visited a news or information site during the month.

Big Five

The usual suspects — AOL (NYSE: AOL), Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), Microsoft’s MSN (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Lycos (Nasdaq: TRLY) — continued to top the Web traffic charts.

As for well-recognized e-commerce companies, NetRatings had Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) in the No. 6 spot overall and in the top spot for e-commerce. EBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) was at No. 10 and (Nasdaq: HOMS) at No. 21.

Jupiter ranked EBay eighth overall and Amazon 11th.

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