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Commentary: Gadget-happy, or gizmo-glum?

Consumers' attitudes toward technology govern what products they buy and when they buy them. Producers should pay attention.

Commentary: Gadget-happy, or gizmo-glum?
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
August 2, 2005, 5:00 a.m. PDT

by Ted Schadler, Principal Analyst

Any company that sells a technology-enabled product or service--and that's most business-to-consumer companies these days--needs to know how consumers adopt and use technology.

Forrester's recent Consumer Technographics Benchmark 2005 study reveals that consumers' adoption of technology--and their media consumption, online behavior, and attitudes toward shopping, advertising and research--depends on their attitude toward technology. Are they optimistic or pessimistic?

This survey, of 68,664 U.S. and Canadian households, is the eighth annual study in the largest, longest-running consumer survey after the U.S. Census.

Tech adoption In 2004, those consumers, especially the 49 percent who are tech optimists:

• Snapped up ever-cheaper personal devices. Consumers went device crazy in 2004: Adoption of MP3 players more than doubled to 10.8 percent of households; 8 million households added laptops to their computer lineup; 15 million households added digital cameras; and camera phones exploded from 2.5 percent to 12.8 percent of households. Technology attitude correlates with device adoption: Tech optimists as a group own 6.3 devices on average, whereas pessimists own only 4.4.

• Went online to bank, shop, download and share. Technology optimists are 44 percent more likely than pessimists to go online. And once there, they are three times more likely than tech pessimists to download music files legally or listen to Internet radio and twice as likely to research products for purchase, shop online, or send or receive photos via e-mail. Tech optimists are also more than twice as likely as pessimists to check bank balances online and almost three times as likely to pay bills online.

• Used mobile phones for long-distance and data. Almost one in three households makes more than half its long-distance calls from home on a mobile phone. Of that group, those younger than 25 are 40 percent more likely to make wireless long-distance calls from home than they were in 2003. Technology attitude predicts handset brands and mobile spend: LG owners are more likely than Nokia owners to be optimistic about technology--and they spend $20 more a month on wireless services.

• Took advantage of broadband's falling prices. Twenty-nine percent of North American households had broadband by the end of last year--almost 50 percent higher than the year before--and they spent $2.55 less per month on it than they did in 2003. And technology optimists are twice as likely as pessimists to have broadband.

• Shifted their media and personal services attention online. Households with broadband watch television two hours less per week than offline households and spend an hour less per week reading a newspaper. Tech optimists in particular are more than twice as likely as pessimists to go online to book travel, research a medical condition or contact customer service by e-mail.

Attitude and income
Technology attitude segments consumers into two groups: tech optimists and tech pessimists. These groups behave differently when technology is involved. For example:

• High-income technology optimists jump in despite the hassles. These classic early adopters (28 percent of households) will tolerate high prices, kludgy products and annoyances in order to get a cool new feature. This group led the charge to MP3 players, plasma TVs and home networks. Marketers can reach this segment with word-of-mouth campaigns on podcasts, bulleted lists of product features and low-cost search advertising.

• Low-income technology optimists buy as soon as the price drops. Tech optimists without a lot of disposable income (21 percent of households) are usually champing at the bit, waiting for the price to come down low enough before jumping in. This group is now picking up low-cost laptops, flash MP3 players and enhanced-definition TVs. Marketers need to emphasize price and features to reach this group online or offline.

• High-income technology pessimists wait to be convinced. Technology pessimists with money (23 percent of households) truly don't believe in the value of technology. Features won't sell them; they need to see benefits. They won't rush out to buy satellite radios until the content they want--Howard Stern or NHL games--is available. Marketers must reach this segment with a simpler offer, a stronger brand and an offline approach.

• Low-income technology pessimists stay on the sidelines. This group (28 percent of households) is the last to adopt technology-enabled products or services. Marketers chasing this segment will use television advertising; mainstream messages incorporating fear, greed or lust; and carefully manage their customer support costs.

© 2005, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.