People just don't think they need one.
"(The PC) is going to have to become easier to use and more compelling," said Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, which carried out the survey. "And I don't think the next version of Microsoft Windows is going to make it accessible to these people."
That finding was one of many discoveries of a study in which the Cambridge, Mass. firm analysed 20,000 survey responses from U.S. and Canadian consumers.
The report concluded that despite the flood of publicity surrounding e-commerce, only 20 per cent of those with Internet-connected PCs went shopping or traded stocks online. The number is 5 per cent of the total U.S. population.
Forrester found that the lack of computer-owning households is significantly holding back the growth of the Internet. Less than half of U.S. households -- 43 percent -- now own computers, a number expected to jump to 50 percent by the end of this year.
The good news for the computer industry is that most non-computer-owners said they'd buy a PC if the price was right. And since computer prices have been dropping, Forrester expects computer penetration to keep growing.
Until, that is, it hits about 80 percent. According to Forrester's Bernoff, the difficulties of the wired world simply outweigh the benefits for some 20 million people.
"Applications like e-mail, video games, and home budgeting simply don't fit into some people's lives," Bernoff said. "One reason is that computers need to get easier to use, and technologies like voice recognition could do that. But the GUI (graphical user interface), with its file-folder and desktop metaphors, is almost tapped out."
But, realistically, the PC would do well to reach eight out of every 10 American households. "Maybe (this problem) doesn't need to be solved," Bernoff said. "After all, only 70 percent of all households have a VCR, and you don't hear people worrying about making VCRs more accessible."
The obstacles facing e-commerce have more to do with perception than ease of use. Shopping via the Internet has largely been an activity engaged in by affluent and computer-savvy users. But that population should double by the end of this year, according to Forrester.
But one lingering issue of concern needs to be resolved -- security. Half the surveyed users who expressed interest in buying online said poor e-commerce security was holding them back.
Bernoff blamed scare-tactic advertising by computer security companies and the lack of any positive advertising for e-commerce security's poor image.