WASHINGTON – More than three quarters of the nation’s Internet users (78%) did some form of holiday activity via email and the Web this holiday season. They used email to socialize and arrange holiday gatherings, reconnect with old friends, and plan religious activities. They browsed online malls and bought gifts in higher numbers than last year.

A holiday season survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that 71% of Internet users went online for some kind of social or spiritual activity and 53% did some kind of e-commerce – either online window-shopping or purchasing gifts. Many online Americans did both social and commercial activities online.

Over the holidays, online Americans increasingly used email to arrange gatherings and send greetings:

  • 48% of email users sent and received messages from family members about holiday events and plans
  • 45% of email users sent and received messages from friends about holiday events and plans
  • 27% exchanged holiday cards and letters via email.

    All of those activities increased since last year.

    “As people become more comfortable with email, they prefer it to the telephone for making their plans and arrangements,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Many Internet users are also eager to use email for heartfelt and intimate communications, especially during the holiday season.”

    This year’s survey picked up evidence that about a third of Internet users have now become relatively active online celebrants. They stand out from other online Americans because they use email more often to make holiday plans and share greetings and they use the Web fairly aggressively to make more purchases.

    In all, 28% of online Americans bought gifts online, up slightly from the 26% who bought last year. The average online gift buyer spent $407 this year, up from $392 last year. Convenience and time savings mattered most to them. But, in addition, 51% of online gift shoppers say that a major reason they went online to shop was to locate an unusual or hard-to-find present. Some 31% say saving money was a major reason.

    Some 30% of online Americans say they use the Internet to get spiritual and religious information now. That is an increase from the 25% that were seeking religious material last year. African-Americans and parents, especially mothers, are the most likely to have sought spiritual material online.

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of Americans’ Internet use.