Poll: Online shopping increases in rural Nebraska

jbrehm2, October 7, 2010 | View original publication

Poll: Online shopping increases in rural Nebraska

Online shopping by rural Nebraskans has more than doubled in the last 10 years, further challenging local and regional retailers, according to the 2010 Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 14-page survey, conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was sent to 6,500 households in 84 non-metropolitan counties last March and April. Results are based on 2,797 responses.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they'd purchased goods and services from Internet sites in the last year, up from only 29 percent in 2000. Forty-two percent of the respondents who said they'd shopped online make online purchases at least once a month; forty-six percent said they'd done so several times a year.

In 2000, only 22 percent of respondents made online purchases at least once a month.

"This has become a fairly frequent activity. It's really expanding," said Randy Cantrell, rural sociologist with the Nebraska Rural Initiative.

Expanded online shopping comes as satisfaction with local retail shopping continues to decline. In 1997, 53 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with shopping in their communities; this year, that dropped to 41 percent.

Fifty-three percent of rural Nebraskans who made online purchases during the last year said they'd spent at least $500. Ten percent spent less than $100 and 37 percent spent $100 to $499.

While online shopping has increased significantly in the last 10 years, shopping closer to home has decreased.

Sixty percent of poll respondents said they purchased at least one-half of their retail goods and services in their community or the nearest community in the last year; that's down from 67 percent in 2000.

"The role of the regional center as the local source may be losing some to the web," UNL public policy specialist Brad Lubben said.

People living in or near larger communities were more likely than those in smaller communities to have purchased online – 73 percent of those in towns of 10,000 or more, compared to 59 percent of those in towns of less than 500.

"This difference can likely be partially explained by the quality of Internet services available in larger communities compared to smaller ones," the poll report said. Residents of smaller communities are more likely to express dissatisfaction with their Internet service, "so, as Internet connectivity continues to improve across the state, one would expect a growth in online shopping in these smaller communities."

As one would expect, younger people are more likely than older ones to have shopped online – 80 percent of those under 50 compared to 31 percent of those 65 and up. However, there's been significant growth in online shopping among older rural Nebraskans, too; only 6 percent in that age group had shopped online in 2000.

"This is reinforcing the notion that local retailers will not survive by virtue of having a monopoly on location," Lubben said. They'll need to emphasize excellent customer service or find a unique niche to thrive.

Bruce Johnson, agricultural economist, added, "There still is a major role to play by local retailers – particularly for basic items where direct access and convenience are important."

The items purchased most often online include clothing, music and books, airline tickets and computer hardware and software. In some cases, these are items that may not even be available from retailers in small communities, Cantrell said.

The 2010 Nebraska Rural Poll also revisited some questions asked every year about people's feelings about their communities and their plans, if any, to leave it. Highlights of those findings:

– Twenty-six percent said they'd seen positive change in their community in the last year, up from 23 percent in 2009 but still down from 33 percent in 2006 and 2007. Twenty-four percent said their communities had changed for the worse, down from 26 percent in 2009, which was the highest recorded in the poll's history.

– Only 6 percent said they plan to move from their community in the next year. Of those planning to move, 69 percent said they'd stay in the state, with 14 percent planning a move to the Lincoln or Omaha area and 55 percent planning to relocate to another part of the state.

Cantrell noted that among those planning a move, the proportion anticipating relocating to Omaha or Lincoln has dropped, while the percentage saying they'll move to other parts of Nebraska is up.

"That bodes well for non-metropolitan Nebraska," he said.

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year's response rate was about 43 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available online at Nebraska Rural Poll.

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Initiative with funding from UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.