NEW YORK: Some 46% of US consumers are shopping less during the downturn, a trend that becomes more pronounced with age, while 50% are buying more goods on the web in an attempt to find better deals, Hill & Knowlton, the communications consultancy, says.

Based on a survey of over 600 adults, the company reported that 83% of respondents agreed "personal prior experience" had the greatest impact on which internet sites they chose to shop at.

A further 48% said a "family member" was the crucial influencing factor in this decision, followed by a "friend", on 44%, and "an online offer or an from the online store itself", on 43%.

Social media was defined by the company's Future of Commerce report as "Word of Mouth 2.0 for younger generations", with 27% of participants from Generation Y arguing that online communities and blogs helped shape their behaviour.

This total compared with just 19% of their counterparts in Generation X, and just 9% of Baby Boomers who assigned such a role to these tools.

Overall, however, the study said traditional media remains "the universal driver of influence" and "the most effective vehicle for reaching mass audiences".

In support of this statement, it found that 19% of Americans regarded newspaper or magazine articles as playing an important part in determining their choice of eCommerce portal, with 12% affording the same status to broadcast media.

Hill & Knowlton's analysis of over 300 "traditional news articles" covering the online retail sector also established a "strong linkage between companies who talk about the industry - and not just themselves - and increased brand valuation."

"Online retailing is being profoundly impacted by the integration of social media into what historically has been a transactional experience," said Joshua Reynolds, worldwide technology practice director of Hill & Knowlton.

"Our research indicates that online shopping increases in a downturn, providing a potential offset for offline retailers experiencing revenue losses in the downturn," he added.

Data sourced from Hill & Knowlton; additional content by WARC staff