Europe Sees Big Gains in Internet Usage

Internet penetration in Europe exploded during 1999, with one out of every four Western Europeans reported to have used the Internet in the three months prior to a survey by International Data Corp. (IDC).

According to IDC’s study, 5 percent of the total adult population claimed to have made an online purchase in the same time period.

“For the first time, we are now seeing a significant portion of the European population buying online,” said Stefan Elmer, Internet analyst at IDC. “Even though many people are buying on an experimental basis–maybe trying it out for the first time–they represent a substantial customer base that will enable European consumer e-commerce to really take off in the coming year or two.”

IDC also found that more women are logging on to the Internet. On average, 41 percent of European Internet users are women, but compared to one year ago, this share has increased by 5 percent. IDC expects the development to continue, and predicts that as many European women will be surfing the Web as men by 2001.

Only 25 percent of the Internet users surveyed report using the Web for half an hour or more a day, a relatively modest consumption level when compared to other media such as televisions and newspapers.

“Europe seems to be developing a different online culture than the United States, with more focused Internet usage and less spontaneous surfing,” Elmer said. “One of the reasons for this is, despite the free ISPs, the European Internet users incur relatively high telecom charges.”

IDC’s study also found the primary reason for not buying on the Internet is the perceived risk of credit card fraud. Mistrust of online shops was also a significant factor. Respondents seemed to care less about price and delivery when buying online.

“Many products and services on the Internet are not priced any lower than in normal shops, and it takes several days for products to arrive with the mail,” Elmer said. “According to our study, people are not concerned with these facts. Instead they worry about having their credit card abused, even though the risk is minimal.”

The growth in the number of buyers at the European level is very much linked to the fact that e-commerce has now spread from the smaller Nordic countries to the large Northern and Central European economies. Germany and the UK have experienced tremendous growth rates in terms of Internet buying during 1999 and currently account for more than half of all European Internet buyers.

IDC’s findings are applicable to Europe as a whole, but some countries remain further ahead in Internet usage than others. Internet use ranges from 58 percent in Sweden, the most advanced country, to 16 percent in France, the European Internet laggard. Countries also differ in terms of Internet buying. As many as 11 percent of the British adult population age 15 and over said they have made an online purchase in the three months prior to the survey, while only 1-2 percent had done so in Spain.

IDC’s findings were based on a Fall 1999 survey of 10,600 households in the 12 largest European Internet markets.

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