Thursday, May 15, 2003

SARS turns HK consumers to online shopping

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Online traffic to shopping, education, news, medical and banking sites soared in Hong Kong as people sought safety at home from the SARS virus and steered clear of public places, according to a survey.

Internet monitor Nielsen/NetRatings said April was the first month since February 2001 that the number of active Internet users in the city showed double-digit growth.

Traffic increased dramatically as surfers explored sites they wouldn't normally visit, said the agency's marketing director for Hong Kong, Peter Steyn.

SARS first surfaced in southern China late last year before spreading around the world. The epidemic took off in Hong Kong in March.

Nielsen/NetRatings, a partnership between market research firm AC Nielsen and Internet measurement agency NetRatings Inc., said in a statement sent to Reuters in Sydney on Thursday that average page views in April rose 44 percent compared with February.

For clarity, the agency compared April with February, before panic over severe acute respiratory syndrome gripped Hong Kong. SARS has killed almost 600 worldwide and infected more than 7,600 in 30 countries since originating in southern China.

Nielsen/NetRatings said traffic to news sites rose 40 percent in April compared with February, visitors to education portals increased 36 percent and traffic to banking sites jumped 27 percent.

The number of people visiting general shopping sites rose 15 percent, but that category was distorted by a significant decline in traffic to movie and event booking sites, and travel portals.

Nielsen/NetRatings did not have survey data for Internet use in other areas of Asia hit by SARS or panicked by the disease.

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