The U.S. Dominates the Web: Are We Better at Using It?

Just because 85 percent of all Web pages are in the United States, we Americans tend to think of the Internet as a U.S. entity. We often view other countries as a bit na&iumlve when it comes to the Web. “They’re way behind.” “They just don’t get it yet.”

That may be. Personally, I don’t feel qualified to second-guess entire countries. It is instructive to consider where other countries are at and examine how their issues apply to us here in the Internet States of America. Maybe we’re not as advanced as we think we are.

In Hong Kong, a mere 4 percent of Internet users bought online in the past year. This number was unchanged from the previous year, despite an almost 50 percent increase in e-commerce traffic. This reticence to purchase has been attributed to security concerns, poor customer service, and users’ proximity to brick-and-mortar retailers.

A recent study found that less than half of smaller New Zealand manufacturers use the Internet. They list many obstacles, including fear of viruses and hackers, a lack of e-commerce knowledge, and difficulty of measuring return on investment (ROI). A similar report found that although almost 70 percent of small Italian businesses have Web access, only 0.5 percent of those with a Web presence sell goods or services online. Reasons given include lack of knowledge of the Web’s potential and lack of technological expertise.

A BCG report says that unless European online retailers get “more aggressive,” U.S. companies will take over their home markets. A recent study of British corporate Web sites found them “woefully inadequate.” The study considered usability and information available on corporate sites, noting, for example, that 1 in 10 doesn’t have an “about us” section on the home page. Only 28 of 100 companies scored over 50 of a possible 100 points.

Is the rest of the world really so backward? Are we so ahead of the global curve?

Most consumer studies in the U.S. suggest that we have the same fears about security as the rest of the world. Are these fears justified? Computer “security incidents” (Web site attacks, malicious viruses, and network intrusions) and “vulnerabilities” increased 200 percent last year.

Site design and customer service on non-U.S. sites can be a subject of derision. That’s a little hypocritical. For every report saying online customer service is getting better in the U.S. (here and here), there’s one saying it’s getting worse (here and here). We jumped into the Internet in a bigger way, so there should be no excuse for ignoring the elephant in the drawing room — we are still not giving customers the experience they deserve, regardless of incremental improvements in the prevalence of automated email response systems.

As for site quality, we have much to both smile and cringe about. Only 2.5 percent of U.S. government sites received an “A” in a recent study. Some feel poor site usability is one of the key reasons so many e-commerce sites have gone bankrupt.

Sometimes you almost have to wonder if the rest of the world might be learning from our mistakes. Accenture says that online shoppers in the U.S. fare better than Europeansbecause we have better product information, easier ordering, and no cross-border delivery. European sites do better in fulfillment because they “are less complex than their U.S. counterparts and are easier to navigate as a result.”

This is a bad thing? Vive la r&eacutevolution!

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