Byline: Dick Silverman

NEW YORK — The Internet era has just begun.
For the last two years, Internet activity has soared, but there’s still a long way to go. By 2010, virtually all U.S. households will be hooked up to the Internet via computers, TV, telephones and other devices, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Currently, 40 percent of American households are connected.
“Perhaps more importantly, consumers will be more reliant on the Internet,” the consulting firm stated in its new study, “Consumers 2010.”
Web technologies will deliver a profound impact across America, transforming how people live, communicate and shop, PricewaterhouseCoopers projected, with the Internet becoming their primary channel of communication for co-workers, friends, family, government agencies and educational institutions.
“More consumers will become connected because they must,” the PricewaterhouseCoopers report stressed.
Meanwhile, Internet consultant Forrester Research is estimating that the number of households with Internet access will keep climbing during the next 10 years. While only 39 million people in the U.S. had access to the Web in 1999, and 44 million are projected to be wired by yearend, Forrester expects that 51 million homes will be online in 2001; 56 million in 2002; 60 million households in 2003, and 62 million in 2004.
As current barriers to Internet use are surmounted, more consumers will gain 24-hour online access to the Web in a range of venues at home, at work, in cars and in public places, like stores, health clubs and airports, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted.
Further, the group forecast Web sites will benefit from becoming more relevant to consumer’s daily lives and interests, and keep gaining popularity as technologies are developed to introduce new uses of data and three-dimensional images, among other features.
And as Web sites and Internet technology evolve, online shopping will become a common activity, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report predicted. “Consumers will expect retailers to be available online, as well as on land,” the consulting firm advised. “Retailers will be required to shoulder the financial burden of making sure that consumers can access them through a variety of selling platforms.”
Consumers will routinely use the Internet for more than just shopping. They’ll use it to research products they might buy, obtain information from experts and to communicate with family and friends.
The Internet is expected to become particularly popular with young people. When asked in a study by Yankelovich Monitor if computer technology will allow them to gain more control over their lives, 61 percent of Generation X’ers said yes, compared with 57 percent of baby boomers and 37 percent of older consumers.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ research, 96 percent of those using the Internet use it for e-mail, 91 percent use it to obtain information and 48 percent use it for shopping. Also, 45 percent said they use the Internet for reading magazines; 38 percent for interactive entertainment; chat rooms, at 29 percent; downloading music or videos, 26 percent, and online banking, 24 percent.
As a result of the steadily growing Internet use, PricewaterhouseCoopers anticipates consumers will become more savvy shoppers, which means they will shop a wider selection of retail venues — and become less loyal to specific stores. “Unless there is a compelling reason for sticking with a retailer or supplier, more (consumers) will be willing to cut ties when something better comes along,” the study stated.
But the study warned that the technology’s mass acceptance is hindered by economic obstacles. While 60 percent of households with incomes over $75,000 have Internet access, only 19 percent of households with incomes of $25,000 and $35,000 use the Internet.
While consumers at an economic disadvantage may want to improve their prospects, they will have limited exposure to the new technology, the firm noted.

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