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Issue 2001-11 Friday, Septembre 21, 2001

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  Surfing at work: a massive and lasting reality in consumers' behaviour today  

In 1999, when the Internet economy found itself in the spotlight and when the speculative madness on the subject suddenly got carried away, big service providers such as service organisations and big consulting firms rushed on what they thought would be an easy-to- grasp market.

As they discovered this new Internet reality, which was at the same time a media channel, interactive medium, channel of distribution and electronic mail service, they naturally tried and act as they used to with the other supports, such as the press, radio or television.

This is how, as record funds were raised in 1999, the media started to promote advertising on the Internet according to the logic that applies to the other sectors of the media (pursuit of fame, image promotion, fixed payment on the Cost per Thousand basis, etc…)

However, we presently realise that, much more so than with traditional media, the very nature of the Internet (which makes it possible for instance to qualify potential customers in real time) greatly favours a payment for each "success" (affiliation, cost per click, cost per subscriber, cost per questionnaire that is filled, etc)

Similarly, and continuing in the same state of mind as used to prevail at the time which applied the same logic to the internet as to the already well-known media, the players involved were convinced that users would mostly surf at home and that only few would access the Internet from work and even if they did, they would only do it for specific applications.


But after observing over a few years the way users really surf when they are at work, whether they surf for professional or private reasons, we realise that surfing at work represents a significant part of Internet activity. And this reality proves specific to the Internet (it seems unlikely that people watch television at work, for instance!)

While still remaining cautious, we can still try and assume the reason why people massively use the Internet at work.

One reason is due to the fact that the terminals that allow people to access the Internet today (mostly PCs) still happen to be found mostly in companies where they work.

The last survey that was conducted in France by the IDC on the subject, points out that in June 2001, the number of terminals that were connected to the Internet amounted to 12 millions, of which 41 percent were to be found at home… and 59% at work.

Another reason, which is somehow a more practical one, is due to the fact that users who access the Internet from work do not have to pay for their connections and, as a result, enjoy more freedom than at home where their surfing proves more "efficient", and is less focussed on the discovery of new web sites and the browsing through content web sites for instance.

And finally, we could also mention the fact that the Internet has become a "natural" activity for users, as the email is presently becoming the main conveyor of communications in companies.

What is more, this reality of surfing is expected to last, and might even increase in the coming months, if we are to listen to the French IDC survey, as it believes that the number of terminals that are to be found in companies should go from 7.135 millions today to over 8 millions at the end of this year.

If we take this reality of surfing at work into account, and add it to the surfing that takes place at home, we are lead to understand the behaviour of Internet users from another angle.

The most obvious consequence of all this concerns the average length of time Internet users spend online.

The American Institute MMXI conducted a survey in the United-States, and this survey indicates that American Internet users spent an average of 20.7 hours online in July, taking into account users who accessed the Internet both from work and from home, and this length of time amounts to nearly twice as much as what is generally accepted for users who only access the Internet from home.

Another aspect of the surfing that takes place at work depends on the surfing sessions themselves, which prove very different from those that take place at home.

This is how, according to BVA TFC Research, which constituted the first behavioural panel on the French market with people who access the Internet both from work and from home, in August 2001, 70.58 percent of the time that was spent on classified job advertisement web sites took place between 9h00 A.M. and 6.00 PM. This would tend to indicate that Internet users mainly visit job web sites…when they are at work!

I think web site marketing managers haven't yet explored the field of experimentation related to the specificity of surfing that takes place at work.

For instance, if we take into account the specific habits shown by users who access the Internet from work, it would then prove easier to better target advertising campaigns: the ones that invite us to discover a site and as a result, require time, would no doubt have a better return on investment if they were broadcasted at a time when users are more willing to surf.

Sources : IDC France - BVA TFC Research - MMXI

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