This article was originally featured in New Media Age Magazine.
The downturn in the economy has effectively rebooted the growth of the internet in terms of the time people spend online and the number of sites they visit. Over the first nine months of the year, people weren't spending more time online than they did in the corresponding nine months the previous year. The average year-on-year growth each month, in terms of average time online per person, was just 1%.
Between March and June 2008, people actually averaged less time online than they did in the same period in 2007. However, during the last quarter of 2008 they spent 22% more time online than in Q4 2007.
The degree to which people are increasingly turning to the internet as a financial first-aid kit is shown by the fact that the two fastest growing sectors in 2008 were Free Merchandise and Coupons/Rewards (see graph). The latter sector was visited by 9.8m Britons — more than one in every four people online, compared to around one in every seven people a year ago. The tenth-fastest growing online sector was Loans, which grew by 55%, again far outstripping the overall internet growth rate of 11%.
In the first half of 2008 people visited 8% fewer sites than they did a year before. Yet in the second half they visited 7% more sites. The plateauing of behaviour consequently meant growth could only be achieved at the expense of someone else. The economic environment, perversely, seems to have changed this. For example, consumers in the Coupons/Rewards sector now visit 2.3 sites on average, compared to 1.7 a year ago — a small increase but relatively significant (38%). The two most popular sites in the sector, Nectar.com and MyVoucherCodes.co.uk, shared a very small audience. In December 2007, only 5% of people who visited Nectar also visited MyVoucherCodes; in December 2008 this figure had almost quadrupled to 19%.
Opportunities for growth in the current economic climate can be discovered by looking at which age groups are exhibiting large changes. For example, the biggest increases to the Coupons/Reward sector were among 12-17-year-old girls (an 184% increase in their numbers), men aged 18-24 (166% increase) and 55-64-year-old women (155%). What this shows is the economic situation is affecting people's activity online across the board and the opportunity is there for everyone online to profit, particularly if they promote the web's money-saving capabilities.