The fact that low-income Americans are somewhat less likely to purchase things online is not too much of a surprise, as those with lower incomes might be expected to be less active shoppers generally. In fact, low-income Americans – defined in this survey as those who reported household incomes of less than $25,000 annually – are less frequent shoppers than the more well-off. Some 56% of low-income Americans go shopping once a week or more often, while 63% of those whose annual household incomes are over $60,000 annually shop once a week or more often.
Low-income online Americans generally are less likely to use the internet for the range of online shopping activities about which we queried. Compared to upper-income internet users, they are half as likely on a typical day to do something relating to shopping on the internet.
It is important to keep in mind that online access varies by household income. Although low-income internet users are nearly as likely as high income ones to have ever done any of the online shopping activities listed, all low-income Americans are less likely to have done them. This is because their internet access rate is about half that of upper-income Americans.
Notwithstanding these patterns of access and use of the internet to shop, certain features of online shopping might make using the internet for shopping very attractive to low-income people. As sociologists who study the poor have noted, being poor often means spending more time to carry out tasks many of those with higher incomes take for granted. Dependence on public transportation means it takes longer to get from point to point. Low-wage jobs generally have less flexibility for dealing with medical or child care problems, which creates time pressures in dealing with work- versus personal time trade-offs. Low-income people might also be expected to benefit most from finding bargains online – something half the online population sees as a benefit of using the internet to shop.