Free ISPs spur Net market growth

British consumers made nearly 5 million purchases online in the second half of 1998, and are becoming increasingly confident in using the Web as a retail vehicle, according a new report by NOP.

The latest wave of the research company’s Internet User Profile Study, conducted among 1,000 UK Internet users selected from 21,000 initial interviewees, estimates that the value of online retail purchases in the second half of 1998 was 470m.

The company expects the scale of online shopping to accelerate during the coming year.

“With users becoming more familiar with the Web as a primary source of information, their confidence in using it for an increasingly complex range of activities is also growing,” says Rob Lawson associate director of NOP.

“Internet use in Britain will clearly be a mass-market activity by the beginning of the millennium as a growing number of people are becoming familiar with the medium through locations other than the workplace,” he adds.

The research shows that nearly 10.6 million adults accessed the Internet at least once during 1998. This represents a 48 per cent increase compared with 1997, when the figure stood at just over 7 million. Frequency of use among the UK’s Web audiences is also increasing.

Growth in home-based Internet access is now outpacing the development in workplace access among consumers.

The launch of free Internet access services – such as Dixons Freeserve and BT Clickfree – has given renewed impetus to the growth of the medium, says Lawson.

“Internet use in the UK has undergone spectacular growth in recent months,” he says. “One of the principal factors explaining this was the introduction by Dixons of Freeserve in the last quarter of 1998 which has given the company somewhere in the region of one-fifth of the market overnight. However, even removing this from the equation, overall growth was still strong during the six months to December 1998.”

NOP confirms Freeserve and other free Internet service providers (ISPs) are broadening the demographic spread of the medium.

The Net is now attracting older consumers and those from the C2DE social groups, compared with the predominantly younger age groups and ABC1s which have dominated the UK online audience to date.

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