Lack of skill and trust holds back e-commerce in Europe

Online shopping in Europe is beginning to take off, according to a new report from Internet research company Forrester.

But while consumers are getting used to the idea of buying online, the study finds that many are held back by a lack of experience, trust and need.

Only four per cent of households in the five countries Forrester surveyed (France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK) have purchased online in the past three months. These shoppers resemble early online shoppers in the US – well-educated, high-income, urban males who mainly buy CDs, books and software. They also show important cultural differences that reflect national patterns in preferred payment and delivery method.

“Although online behaviour in Europe varies by country, nationality is not always the strongest predictor of online shopping behaviour,” says Reineke Reitsma, the report’s author. “Forrester’s segmentation found that consumer attitudes toward the Net, which are largely shaped by experience and trust, are a stronger indicator of when consumers will shop online.”

To understand better what Europe’s Net shoppers will look like in 2004, Forrester segmented current users to look for significant clusters based on online behaviour. It found that today’s online consumers fall into one of four categories, each with distinct behaviour and attitudes: Pioneer Internetters, Generation Next, Future Buyers, and Shopping Hold-outs.

Pioneer Internetters were the first Europeans on the Internet. Career-focused and highly optimistic about technology, more than 60 per cent of the consumers in this category bank online and 36 per cent buy stocks.

Consumers in the Generation Next category have been online for a short time but are already very active, spending an average of 5.4 hours per week online. They are entertainment-focused in both online activities and purchases, and are the most likely to consider price an issue when buying online.

Future Buyers have been online less than two years and are not yet making online purchases. Their trust in the medium is low and their need for products is only moderate. But this segment will grow quickly as they overcome concerns about security and discover the convenience of online shopping.

Finally, the Shopping Hold-outs, who make up 40 per cent of Europe’s online population, have no plans to start shopping online in the next six months. Although they do not differ much in demographic profile from the Pioneer Internetters, they differ strongly in their attitudes toward the Net.

“As each of these groups gains experience, trust and a need for online shopping’s benefits, these patterns will shift,” adds Reitsma. “Over the next five years, Europe’s online population will go mainstream, bringing national characteristics to the Net.

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