UK Leads Europe In E-commerce While Ireland Lags On Net Usage

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Internet usage in Ireland is the lowest in Western Europe while the UK leads the way when it comes to e-commerce, supported by wider broadband access

While the UK might be lagging behind some European states when it comes to the roll-out of high-speed broadband, it is leading the way when it comes to enthusiasm for online shopping, according to new EU statistics.

The latest figures on broadband roll-out, Internet usage and e-commerce put the UK in first place across the region for uptake of online shopping, with around 66 percent of individuals aged from 16 to 74 reporting they had bought goods on the web over the last 12 months.

The statistics, released this week by the European Union Eurostat service, also revealed that the percentage of UK households with any kind of Internet access has grown from 67 percent in 2007 to 77 percent in 2009. Broadband access has increased from 57 percent to 69 percent in the same period. Overall, Iceland had the highest percentage of broadband users, at 87 percent, but the country’s small population makes for an unfair comparison with other states. Sweden came in second place with 80 percent, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark.

Despite the economic boom that Ireland went through over the last decade, the country has the lowest levels of Internet usage for young people in Western Europe, with only 58 percent of 16 to 24 year olds reporting to use the Internet every day compared to 83 percent in the UK.

While UK citizens are keen to take advantage of the flexibility and choice offered by online shopping sites such as Amazon.co.uk, other European states are barely making in-roads into online shopping, despite having substantial Internet and broadband access in place.

For example, 51 percent of consumers in Hungary and 24 percent in Romania were reported to have broadband access but the proportion of consumers in those countries that said they had bought items online in the last 12 months was only 16 percent and 2 percent respectively  – showing that uptake of online shopping is not necessarily dependent on Internet infrastructure. Hungary for example has a more established cash-culture than the UK – driven by endemic tax-avoidance – which means fewer consumers are prepared to transact using credit and debit cards.

Iceland, which has suffered badly from the effects of the economic crisis, also revealed a comparatively low level of online purchases. While 87 percent of people in Iceland have broadband access, only 44 percent of citizens reported that they had purchased goods online. This is likely to be due largely to factors such as the country’s remote location, low population and high-levels of taxation.

The European Commission is hoping to boost levels of e-commerce across Europe by creating what it calls “a digital single market” for online commerce.

The EC has stated that the Internet is the fastest growing retail channel and in 2008, 51 percent of EU retailers sold online. However the EC believes that the gap between domestic and cross-border e-commerce is widening as a result of barriers to online trade. While the share of EU consumers who shop online grew from 27 percent to 33 percent between 2006 and 2008, the share of those who bought anything online from another EU country was stagnant at 6 percent during the same time period.

“Achieving a Digital Single Market is a top priority for Europe”, said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media in October. “We won’t have a real Digital Economy until we remove all barriers to online transactions, also for end-consumers. This must be on top of the list of all policy initiatives to re-launch the single market project.”


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