LONDON: UK online consumers engage in a series of trade-offs when considering an online activity, including weighing effort against convenience and divulging personal data in order to get a product at a better price, according to a new survey.

Ofcom, the UK's regulator and competition authority for the communications industries, used six discussion groups and the participants' diaries of their online activity, to compile Being Online: An Investigation of Online Users' Habits and Attitudes.

An example of this tendency to trade off, suggested Ofcom, was in deciding whether or not to buy something on a website a consumer hadn't heard of before, with the potential risk traded off against the benefit of a lower price.

And while people were reluctant to pass on personal data that would result in emails from unknown companies, they were prepared to pass on such information or agree to terms and conditions if that was what was required to get what they wanted.

More generally, the report found that people's attitudes towards the internet and the role it plays in their lives varied widely and were dictated primarily by their confidence and competence when going online.

Often the thought processes involved in trade-offs were subconscious for the most digitally literate, while the lower-literacy respondents tended to think things through consciously.

A medium-literate group was inclined to adopt a conscious thought process when encountering something online for the first time.

The factors involved in people's thinking included previous experience of performing such an activity, the experiences of family and friends, stories in the media, peer reviews and any cues provided by a website.

For the future, respondents expected the internet to become increasingly important with a more tailored and personalised online experience being the result of providing personal information, which would engender greater customer loyalty.

Most saw a future with total access to all information, for free, which everyone could constantly interact with. Even those with the lowest digital literacy recognised a need to move with the flow of technology or risk being left behind or alienated.

Data sourced from Ofcom; additional content by Warc staff