Web users are increasingly geared up to buy over the internet, but
retailers need to guarantee a good experience. That’s the picture which
emerges from The New Mass Medium, the latest internetTrak report carried
out by NOP on behalf of KPMG, Ziff-Davis, Dell and Intel.
The report, which looks at the size, shape and behaviour of the internet
audience in the UK, Germany and France, found that 24 per cent of regular
British web users have bought something online. But a larger number - 52
per cent - regularly shop by mail order or phone, and 70 per cent have
credit cards. The ability and willingness to shop online are bigger than
the actual market.
Two-thirds of web shoppers say that they have a positive attitude towards
the traditional shopping experience, so they’re not simply people who hate
the high street. The biggest reasons cited for buying from a certain
online store are speed of delivery and retailer’s geographical reach.
It seems that people are keen to see e-shops replicate the virtues of
their high street cousins.
This was underlined when the survey asked consumers what they thought
would improve the online shopping experience. Among the most frequent
comments were: easier ordering; not forcing users to repeatedly enter
personal data when, say, an item is unavailable and they want to select
another; including more information about the products; and,
interestingly, showing pictures of them.
This is not virgin retail territory where the old rules don’t stand -
another common suggestion was that it should be easier to return products
bought online. Clearly, this is an area where traditional retailers,
particularly those with extensive store networks, can score over
internet-only stores. Bookseller Waterstone’s, for example, is now
allowing buyers from its web site to take unwanted books back to its
physical stores for a refund.
So the internet has to give shoppers at least as good an experience as the
high street. Online retailers can’t just say: ’Well, we’re letting you
order from the comfort of your own home through our flash new web site, so
you’ll have to put up with a #20 delivery charge and a two-month wait’.
Consumers will just get back into their cars.
The gap between consumers’ willingness to transact online and their
opportunities to do so is particularly pronounced in a sector like
banking. Only seven per cent of UK web users bank online, compared with 26
per cent in Germany.
And 28 per cent of UK users expect to bank on the web in the next
It’s not that they don’t want to - many just don’t have the chance.
Sectors such as clothing, where serious e-commerce players in the shape of
Boo.com and Arcadia’s Zoom have only recently come on-stream, are
similarly under-represented online. While internetTrak found that 10 per
cent of online buyers had bought books, eight per cent travel and six per
cent CDs, only two per cent had bought clothes. Shirley Brown, a
consultant with report sponsor KPMG, believes that this is largely because
of the shortage of sites selling them.
But with a quarter of UK web users having dipped their toes in the
e-commerce water despite these drawbacks, there is a market ready and
For one thing, when online buyers do dust off their credit cards, they’re
big spenders. The average online book buyer spends #119 on the internet
each year, compared to the #70 spent in physical stores; for CDs, the
figures are #80 and #50; and for leisure travel #816 and #500. Some 16 per
cent of online shoppers spend more than #1,000 a year.
The demographic signs are also positive. The percentage of female UK
internet users is now 39 per cent, compared with 26 per cent in the third
quarter of 1998, when the last set of internetTrak figures came out. And
of people who said they were likely to become internet users in the near
future, 57 per cent were women. This should open new e-commerce
People who are using the net are doing so for longer periods and more
frequently, with 73 per cent accessing it once a week or more, and three
million people in the UK doing so every day. That’s largely because of the
falling price of access: 55 per cent of home web users are now with free
ISPs; only three per cent say they pay more than the equivalent of $25 a
Finally, there was a heartening nugget from report sponsor Dell. When we
launched Revolution, we were agog at news from the US that the company
sold $2 million of computers a day globally over the web. Now, it sells
$4m a day in Europe alone.