DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Americans are not just shopping online. They are buying pricey items on the Web. Nearly 3 out of 10 online shoppers in the United States have bought a product that costs a thousand dollars or more. That is according to an NPR/Marist poll. And as NPR's Uri Berliner reports, those big online spenders are much more likely to be men than women.
URI BERLINER, BYLINE: The early days of the Web were pretty cumbersome.
(SOUNDBITE OF AOL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) How long have you had this?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) About a week. And it's so easy. All you do is point and click.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) But how does it work?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) All you need is a computer and a regular phone line.
BERLINER: That's an AOL ad from the 1990s. Back then online shopping wasn't just awkward...
(SOUNDBITE OF DIAL-UP MODEM)
BERLINER: It felt risky. People were afraid to give out their credit card numbers. They worried, if products would arrive, would they be able to return them? Sucharita Kodali is an analyst with Forrester Research. She says gradually online shoppers dipped their toes in the water.
SUCHARITA KODALI: And it would start with relatively low-ticket transactions, like a book, and that really was, I think, the beginning of it.
BERLINER: The it she's talking about is the explosion in Internet shopping. Last year, U.S. shoppers spent $453 billion on retail purchases online. And many of them go big. Twenty-seven percent of online shoppers have bought an item that costs $1,000 or more. What do they buy? Just about anything.
CARA VETOR: I purchased an infrared sauna online for about $1,100 in 2015.
ANDY PENNELL: I bought a full-size movie prop of Han Solo in carbonite for $1,800.
ALAN KWOK: I bought a lab-grown diamond engagement ring online for $11,000.
KENNA MCKENZIE: Two harps. My latest harp cost $1,800.
BERLINER: That's Cara Vetor of Indianapolis, Ind., Andy Pennell of Kirkland, Wash., Alan Kwok of Austin, Texas, and Kenna McKenzie of Tucumcari, N.M.
If you dig a little deeper into the habits of online spenders, a striking fact emerges. Men are twice as likely as women to buy an item online that costs a thousand dollars or more. Guys have twitchier fingers. Kodali says she's not surprised. Men are usually the early adopters when it comes to technology.
KODALI: If you were to consider, you know, high-end e-commerce purchases, and something that, you know, has historically had a lot of hold outs, the gender that I would expect to be the first to experiment with it would, of course, be men. And I think that's why you're seeing the breakout that you're seeing.
BERLINER: Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at Wharton, believes there's another factor at work, too.
AMERICUS REED: What the research has shown is that men tend to, if they are going to check something out, go to the store quickly, kind of gather as much information as they can quickly and just buy it online, particularly because it's just faster.
BERLINER: Rick Hays of Tallahassee, Fla., has no qualms about a big purchase he made last year at an online auction, even though it's just two sentences long.
RICK HAYS: I purchased a note that Mark Twain had written regarding a missing package, and I paid about $1,500 for it.
BERLINER: Hays says his wife has very different buying habits.
HAYS: She struggled with buying a, you know, a hundred-dollar dress recently online. You know, she wants the experience of seeing it, the tactile experience, I think, of being around whatever item she wants to get.
BERLINER: Hays says there may be another reason he's the more adventurous online shopper. His wife is still working. Hays is retired so he's got more time to browse. And just last week, Hays struck again, buying a signed picture of Muhammad Ali for $1,020. He says he was willing to go higher. Uri Berliner, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EBAY SONG")
WEIRD AL YANKOVIC: (Singing) I bought it on eBay. Want to buy a "Pac-Man Fever" lunchbox? Want to buy a case of vintage tube socks?
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