Gas Prices and Measuring Internet Sensitivity
Bill Tancer, the general manager of Hitwise and author of Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters, blogged here earlier this week about Internet trends and data. This is the second of three posts on the subject.
One of the things that I’ve learned from monitoring the Hitwise aggregate search behavior of 10 million Internet users in the U.S. is that, as a group, we have a remarkably short attention span.
Take any big newsworthy event, if gore or nudity is not at play in the story; expect the spike in Internet searches and resulting site visits on that event to last no more than one week. Rising gas prices are no exception — until recently.
If we chart the visits to sites that provide gas station comparison shopping (sites like gasbuddy.com) against average U.S. gas prices (all grades), we find examples of short-lived hyper sensitivity in September 2005 when retail prices crossed the $3.00 per gallon line, and then again in May 2006 as we approached that same price. It’s interesting to note that subsequent surges past $3.00 per gallon have been met with ever declining visits to gas comparison sites.
Even though gas prices maintained their high levels for several weeks, as Internet searchers we were on to other topics beyond finding the cheapest place to fuel up.
Since this Spring however, gas comparison shopping is showing steady increases indicating that as we hover around $4.00 per gallon, we may have reached a point where getting the most fuel for our money becomes a more integral part of our lives.
To understand this trend further, I analyzed the demographics of visitors to the most visited gas comparison site, gasbuddy.com, over the last four weeks. Visitors to the site were predominantly older (49.57 percent of site visitors were 55 years old or older) with fixed or lower incomes and 47.34 percent were from households earning under $60,000 per year).
This is a dramatic departure from the demographics of that same site in June 2007. At that time, the largest income segment of visitors to the site was households earning over $150,000 per year (25.69 percent). Today the upper income segment accounts for only 9.6 percent of Gasbuddy’s site visitors.
Historically — adding validation to the adage that you have to save money to make money — households earning over $150,000 per year were the most likely to visit comparison shopping sites like Shopping.com, Shopzilla, and Beyond.com, but in the case of surging gas prices, Internet behavioral data indicates that finding the best price is becoming more of a necessity for those on lower or fixed incomes.