17% of internet users – about 23 million people – have sold something online; Visits to classified ad web sites have grown 80% in the past year

About 1 in 6 online American adults sell things on the internet. That amounts to approximately 25 million Americans. A nationwide telephone survey in September 2005 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project also shows that on a typical day, 2% of internet users sell something online.

Almost everything imaginable is currently for sale or has been for sale by individuals on various auction or classified ad sites. Tangible items like pink plastic Christmas trees, collectible coins, wedding dresses, automobiles, books, or CDs share web space with a myriad of intangibles including virtual weaponry and characters from online games (sold for real money) and services including everything from finding a French tutor, a personal trainer or someone to clean your aquarium.

Demographically, online sellers have an “early adopter” profile and they are relatively intense users of the internet. Here are the details:

  • Internet enthusiasts: Those who use the internet frequently are more likely to sell something online than those who are more casual in their internet use. Some 23% of internet users who go online daily sell things online, compared with 9% of those who go online several times a week.
  • Broadband users: Those who have broadband connections are more likely than dial-up users to sell things online. Some 22% of home broadband users, 23% of work broadband users and 30% of those with broadband at both home and work sell things online, compared with just 13% of dial-up users.
  • Online experience: Some 23% of internet users who have been online 6 years or longer say they sell things online, compared with 11% of those who have been online for 4 to 5 years, 5% of those online 2 to 3 years, and less than 1% of “newbies” who have been online a year or less.
  • GenX: Some 26% of wired adults ages 29 to 40 (GenX) sell things online, compared with 17% of the younger Gen Y cohort (ages 18-28) and 13% of all internet users over the age of 40.
  • Men: Some 20% of men with internet access sell things online, compared with 14% of online women.
  • Household income: Some 21% of those who have internet access and live in households that have an annual income of $50,000 or above sell things online, compared with 13% of the wired individuals who live in households that have an annual income below $30,000.
  • Educational attainment: Some 21% of online college graduates sell things online, while only 13% of high school grads and 9% of those without high school diplomas have done so.
  • White and English-speaking Hispanics: White and English-speaking Hispanic internet users are more likely than African-American internet users to sell things online. While 19% of online whites and 17% of English-speaking Hispanics with internet access say they sell things online, just 6% of wired African-American users report the same.

The Pew Internet Project findings cited in this report come from a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,251 American adults (age 18 and older), including 1,577 internet users, between September 14-October 13, 2005. The margin of error on the internet user portion of the survey is plus or minus 3%.

Where are they selling online?

Online classifieds and online auction sites are two of the main ways that internet users can sell items online. According to Pew Internet project data more than one in five internet users have used online auctions or classified to either buy, research or sell items.

  • Classifieds

The Pew Internet Project September 2005 tracking poll found that 22% of online adults, or about 32 million Americans, have used online classified ads for selling items or for other activities.1 According to data from comScore Media Metrix, online classified ad sites as a whole had more than 26 million unique visitors in September 2005 – 80% growth from the previous September. The cluster of sites run by Craigslist were the most popular classified sites, drawing close to 9 million unique visitors that month.2 September 2005 vs September 2004

  • Online Auctions

Nearly one in four (24%) internet users or 35 million people have participated in an online auction–selling or buying something. The 24% finding, from data gathered in the Pew Internet Project’s February-March 2005 tracking survey, reflects a steady increase in auction participation since Pew first asked the question in March of 2000, when 15% of internet users report that they had ever used an auction site. Over time, the daily use of auction sites has risen slightly, as approximately 2% to 3% of internet users use these sites on a typical day. While the percentage of the internet population visiting auction websites on a typical day is stable, the overall size of the internet population has grown, and thus the overall number of people visiting these sites has grown as well.