“Necessity or not”? Pew says Americans’ views are changing.

Pew Center for People & the Press logoThe Pew Research Center fields a Social & Demographic Trends survey on a fairly regular basis which asks Americans if they think certain items are “necessities” … or a luxury they could do without.

Included in the survey are a variety of items ranging from automobiles and appliances to communications devices.

The 2010 survey was conducted in May and queried nearly 3,000 respondents. The results of this survey were released in late August, and they reveal that landline phones and television sets are quickly becoming less essential to U.S. consumers.

In fact, only ~42% of the survey respondents feel that a TV set is a necessity, which is down 10 percentage points from just one year ago.

Here is what respondents reported in response to being asked whether they consider each of the following items to be a “necessity”:

 Automobile: 86% (down 2 percentage points from the 2009 Pew survey)
 Landline phone: 62% (down 6 points)
 Home air conditioning: 55% (up 1)
 Home computer: 49% (down 1)
 Cell phone: 47% (down 2)
 Microwave: 45% (down 2)
 Television set: 42% (down 10)
 High-speed internet: 34% (up 3)
 Cable/satellite TV: 23% (no change)
 Dishwasher: 21% (no change)
 Flat-screen TV: 10% (up 2)

Of course, landline phones and TV sets have been fixtures of American life for as long as most of us can remember. But the Pew research shows this is now changing, and it’s especially so among those in the 18-29 age bracket. In fact, only ~30% of the younger age segment believe that having a TV set is a necessity.

As for landline phones, current government data show that only three-fourths of U.S. households have a landline phone, which is down from ~97% in 2000. Not surprisingly, going in the opposite direction are cell phones; today, more than 80% of U.S. adults use them, up from only about 50% in 2000.

The Pew survey results from 2010 versus 2009 reveal several other declines in “necessities,” but those declines are only slight and may be a result of the economic downturn. Instead, it seems clear that the major shifts are happening due to technological change, not because of the economic picture.

The Pew survey results don’t reveal too much that’s surprising … but it’s important to put some statistics to our broad hunches. And those stats are telling us that certain changes are occurring rapidly.

U.S. consumers: More comfortable than ever making online purchases.

Online purchasingHave U.S. consumers finally gotten over their skittishness about making purchases over the Internet? A newly released study from Javelin Strategy & Research suggests that they have.

The 2010-2014 Online Retail Payments Forecast report draws its findings from data collected online in November 2009 from a randomly selected panel of nearly 3,300 U.S. consumers representing a representative cross-sample by age, gender and income levels.

Based on the Javelin sample, nearly two-thirds of American consumers are now either “comfortable” or “very comfortable” with shopping online.

On the other end of the scale, ~22% of U.S. consumers continue to be wary of online purchasing; these people haven’t made an online purchase within the past year … or in some cases, never.

These figures suggest that the consumer comfort level with making online purchases is as high as it’s ever been. And how are consumers making their online payments? The Javelin study reports that among those respondents reporting online activities, the five most popular payment methods are:

 Major credit card: 70%
 Major debit card: 55%
 Online payment service such as PayPal®: 51%
 Gift card (good at one specific merchant): 41%
 Store-branded credit card (good at one specific merchant): 27%

Even with more than half of consumers using a debit card for online purchases, the total dollar volume of online sales attributable to debit cards is less than 30%. Javelin forecasts debit card share to continue climbing in the short-term, however, due to tighter consumer credit standards now in force.

Bottom line, the Javelin report suggests that despite the periodic horror stories that have been published about credit card information and other financial data being captured or mined off the Internet, the convenience and price/selection benefits of online shopping are winning the day with consumers. Not surprising at all, really.