Europe Not Homogenous Internet Market, Study Tells U.S. Marketers

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Although Internet usage is gaining ground, marketers need to be aware of the vast differences between countries in northern, western and southern Europe, according to a new Pan European Internet Monitor study by Pro Active International.


While 53.3 percent of Sweden's population over 15 years old was online in the past two weeks, less than 8 percent of the populace in Portugal and Spain was on the Internet in the same period, according to a random telephone survey of 14,000 Europeans that validates widely held perceptions.


"There are different reasons for this," said Liesbeth Hop, CEO of Amsterdam-based Pro Active. "One of the major reasons is the telecoms infrastructure. In the countries where you have free Internet access, like the U.K., Holland and in Scandinavia, Internet penetration is much higher than in countries where you don't have free access."


Technology acceptance is another reason for the disparity, Hop said. In Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy, technology was not as well accepted as in parts of northern Europe, she said.


Pro Active's Pan European Internet Monitor is a partnership with mostly U.S.-owned portals and advertising networks to map online habits on the continent. Users in 14 European countries were monitored in February and March, followed by another poll in September.


Data collected from this survey is intended to help U.S. and European offline and online marketers devise Internet strategies for European e-commerce.


Results from the survey's first phase were encouraging. On average, 34 percent, or 107.8 million, of the European population over 15 years of age has access to the Internet at any location, and 24.1 percent can be classified as active online users in the past two weeks.


The Mediterranean economies aren't the only online laggards. Italy, France, Germany and Belgium are below the European average. Eastern Germany is blamed for the low online usage in Germany, whose western region's Internet consumption is similar to the United Kingdom.


An estimated one-third of the total population in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands uses the Internet, the survey said.


"American marketers need to realize that Europe cannot be considered as one market," Hop said. "So if you talk about a European online market, that's mistake No. 1 because it's not one market."


Hop suggests U.S. companies ought to take a local approach. It may be more expensive and sometimes more difficult, but local attention and local involvement are imperative, she said.


"What you see with American companies is that they still make the same mistake in thinking that they can do everything in English," she said. "European companies are used to a democrat process of giving all their companies the same voice through an international management team.


"Americans still try to copy their own American strategies in European countries, which doesn't work."


On the whole, Europe is not far behind the United States in Internet usage. Quoting Nielsen/Netratings, the Pro Active study said nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population has online access, with 35 percent of the population using the Internet in the last 14 days.


But the United States still has more people willing to dare online purchases. According to estimates, 15 percent of the population has bought on the Internet -- and with higher frequency than counterparts in Europe.


Only 8 percent of the surveyed countries' populations has bought products or services online, and about 2.6 percent, or 8.1 million, in the surveyed period of the last two weeks.


Pro Active's Hop said the low conversion to e-commerce is linked to the span of time Europeans have been online.


"Out of other research that we've done, it became very clear that the longer people are online, the more they buy," she said. "Another issue I can think of is credit card acceptance -- it's much lower than in the U.S."
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