WASHINGTON, D.C. ­ During the holiday season, the Internet was used by more Americans to celebrate and socialize than it was to make purchases. A new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that more people used the Internet during the holidays to arrange get-togethers and send holiday e-greeting cards than to buy holiday gifts online. And a substantial number used the Internet to track down new ideas for holiday celebrations, including tips on holiday crafts and recipes or to learn more about holiday religious traditions.

Here are the basic figures from the Pew Internet Project study:

  • 53% of Internet users (over 51 million people) sent emails during the holiday season to relatives and friends to discuss the holidays or make plans.
  • 32% of Internet users (over 30 million people) sent e-greeting cards to loved ones and friends.
  • 24% of Internet users went to the Web to get information on crafts and recipes, and to get other ideas for holiday celebrations.
  • 14% of Internet users researched religious information and traditions.

    By comparison, 24% of Internet users purchased gifts online. Some 45% of Internet users said they went online to get gift ideas and 32% said they used the Web to compare prices.

    “During the holidays, online Americans were more inclined to use the Internet for social purposes than commercial purposes,” says Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project. “People used email to connect, catch up, and make plans. They used the Web as a vast resource to help them get new ideas to enrich their celebrations.”

    Those who did make purchases online generally were pleased by the experience and said they saved money and time. But the Pew Internet Project study contains some red flags for online retailers: An equal number of Internet users – 24% – stopped an online purchase in mid-transaction as those who completed one. And some 22% of Internet users who shopped online last year during the holidays did not do so this year. These are the “click offs” and they far outnumber the “click ins” – the 6% of Internet users who for the first time bought holiday gifts online during the holidays in 2000.

    “We have seen once again that people value having control when they are online, and they believe that they retain a large measure of that when they are sending emails, online greeting cards, or searching for information about holiday traditions,” says John Horrigan, Senior Researcher at the project and author of the report entitled, “The holidays online: Emails and e-greetings outpace e-commerce.”

    “Online shopping means relying on other people or systems to safely transmit the credit card data, pack the right size and color in the box, and get it to a destination on time. These systems usually work well for online shopping, but more people clearly prefer the social dimensions of online life, where they have greater control over what”s going on.”

    The phone survey ran from November 22 to December 21 and involved 2,038 Internet users.