Citibank credit cards are used more than any other for online shopping, according to a survey by Brittain Associates Inc.

More than customer acquisition, use levels have come to be viewed as the key indicator of a card issuer's success in generating online business, particularly given customers' tendency to rely on one card for all their online activities. Of the 55.4 million adults who shop online, 52% - or 28.8 million - use one card almost exclusively, according to Brittain Associates, an Atlanta-based research firm. Ten percent of Internet users do not use credit cards to shop online, and 38% said they use a variety of cards.

Of the 2,400 consumers surveyed in March and April, 14% said Citibank is their card of choice for Internet purchases. Bank One Corp.'s First USA credit card was cited as their online shopping favorite by 12%, Capital One Financial Corp. by 10%, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's Discover card by 9%, and American Express Co. by 8%.

Bruce Brittain, president of Brittain Associates, said online card use has replaced customer acquisition as the focus for issuers.

"The Internet as an acquisition channel is just one more" channel, Mr. Brittain said. "What [issuers] want you to do is to use their card shopping online - that's where the money is going to be made."

Seventy-two percent of all cards acquired online were issued by First USA, NextCard, Providian Financial Corp., Capital One, or Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, according to the survey.

Mr. Brittain mentioned American Express - though it was ranked fifth in online volume and was not among the top online customer acquirers - as the most savvy credit card company on the Internet.

American Express spent its marketing dollars on traditional channels, which many industry experts say bring in higher-quality customers, then portrayed itself as the leading card for Internet use by launching Blue, a hybrid card with a magnetic stripe and a chip.

First USA - which locked up the bulk of major Internet portals with pricey real estate deals last year - was the leader in online marketing, with more than 20% of new accounts acquired online.

Though First USA has come under fire for what many industry executives say was haphazardly throwing marketing dollars at the Web, Mr. Brittain said its strategy paid off in terms of online customer acquisition.

"Most people who get a card as a result of online marketing don't really go looking for a card offer, they just happen upon something," Mr. Brittain said. First USA's "strategy has been to be in as many places as you can be."

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