Home is where the Internet access is, for many Europeans
July 28, 1998
by Kathleen Ohlson
(IDG) -- In Western Europe, most Internet users are educated males going online from their homes, but this is changing as more businesses catch on to the Web, according to a new study by International Data Corp.
Almost 48 percent of European users connect to the Web in their homes, followed by about 41 percent in the workplace and 29 percent in educational institutions, according to the study, "IDC's European Internet Household Survey."
The survey, conducted in May, was based on results from 7,013 households in Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
The typical profile of a European user is a highly educated male, but that demographic is changing as the Internet becomes more mainstream, said Carsten Hejndorf, research manager for IDC's European Internet program.
With access locations popping up in libraries, Internet cafes, educational institutions and the homes of friends and family, younger Europeans with lower incomes are accessing the Web.
Even Europeans who fall into the lower income levels are able to buy PCs because the difference between high and low income is not so great, according to Hejndorf.
In addition, some European companies and establishments have begun to offer their services via the Internet. Some hotels are offering their guests Web access services, for a fee. Telephone carriers plan to build public Internet pay phones, and post offices, airports and train stations are going to install terminals for visitors who want e-mail and Internet access, according to the report.
Internet availability also will be expanded by the rollout of Web devices, including TV set-top boxes, smart screen phones, smart handheld devices and mobile phones, Hejndorf said.
Of the seven countries surveyed, Sweden leads the pack with the highest percentage of its population using the Internet, followed by Denmark and Norway. France and Italy finished at the bottom.
Sweden has a high proportion of women (40 percent) and users that are low income and without university backgrounds. In fact, Sweden is expected to surpass the U.S. in per-capita Internet usage in the coming years, Hejndorf said.
The cost of Internet access is a major reason why many European countries are lagging behind in Internet access. The U.K. and Scandinavia liberalized their telecommunication infrastructures before the other countries surveyed, resulting in lower telecom costs and more Internet usage, Hejndorf said.
High telecom costs are scaring people off, especially families with teenagers. "They can have a bill for [US]$500 to $1,000 just for surfing around. This will prevent families from getting connected for some time," Hejndorf said.
Fifty-nine percent of European users are accessing the Internet more than once a week, with 41 percent occasionally connecting, according to the study. Sweden has the most frequent users, with Norway and Germany grabbing the next spots respectively. Users from France and Denmark make the least amount of frequent visits.
Of those Web users surveyed, only about 12 percent currently use the Web for buying products or services for personal use. Most are buying products that cost between $25 and $250 per quarter, with books and CDs being some of the popular choices, Hejndorf said.
Since not many European products are being sold online, most Internet users who make purchases do so on U.S. Web sites, he said. Amazon.com is one site that is popular with international customers.
But as local book and music outlets start to offer products on the Web, European customers are likely to turn to these sites, according to IDC. This is because customers that order via the Web from local businesses will be able to save in shipping costs and receive their purchases faster than they would if ordering from U.S.-based businesses.
Language is another barrier for buying on the Internet.
"For the core Internet user, many are English speakers. The new Web users coming online are not comfortable with English, so they will never buy from an American site," Hejndorf said. "They want to be able to read terms and conditions in their currency, in their own language."
Of all those Europeans surveyed, Germany has the biggest share of Internet buys, with 18.7 percent, followed by Italy and the U.K. Denmark has the smallest share of Internet purchasers, with 4.7 percent.
Germany is well prepared culturally for Internet shopping since Germans have been ordering from mail-order catalogs for many years, Hejndorf said. Several of the country's retail stores put out large mail-order catalogs, so it is natural for Germans to make the next step to the Internet, he said.
Internet buyers are not the stereotypical European users, who are mainly young. Instead, Europeans who make purchases on the Web tend to be older users who buy from their home or their workplace, with men making the most purchases.
Cultural differences have also played a part for men and women connecting to the Internet. Women have focused on the value of using the Internet as a tool, whereas men see it as a technology, according to Hejndorf. The Internet is attracting more women because they are seeing its usefulness, such as a local phone directory.
Kathleen Ohlson writes for the IDG News Service in Boston.
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