Marketeers need to promote tangible uses of the Internet before large numbers of home users will buy online.
New users are also deterred because Web designers do not make it simple enough to search for information, according to a study carried out by NOP.
Home users have no specific objective when exploring the Net, but do so mainly for general interest, according to NOP, which questioned 2,000 Internet users in the UK, Germany and France.
These findings, says NOP, indicate that there is a lack of awareness of what the Internet can offer, and should prompt marketeers to show users how quick and easy it is to find and contact companies, view products and order them directly from home.
Retailers are not reaping the potential of the Web - not because consumers are unwilling to buy online, but because they often cannot find the right sites.
?People are generally less aware of retail sites than other industries,? said Lisa Page, research manager at NOP. ?But the interesting point is that if they do find a retail site then they are more likely to make a purchase than from sites in other sectors.?
The results also found that, unsurprisingly, experienced users were more sophisticated in their searching. Eighty three per cent of users with over three years' experience searched for specific Web sites and were twice as likely as their novice counterparts to search for specific addresses, news or other information.
NOP said that this further illustrated the need for search engines and Web sites to be simplified so that new users can access information as effectively and productively as more mature ones.
?We are as guilty as the next person when it comes to providing a search facility because we are all trying to keep up with growing content,? said Ralph Averbuch, UK director at search engine supplier Yahoo.
?We recognise that a lot of users are novices who find their way around the Web by trial and error, much like the way you learn to programme your VCR. How many people do you know who read the instruction manual for doing this?" he asked. "However, the essence of the Internet is point and click and we are committed to this fundamental point."
The research also found some stark differences in Internet usage patterns in different European countries. Five times as many Net users in Germany said they had banked online during the previous year than in the UK. The French are more likely to go online at home, while usage of the Internet in education is highest in the UK.
The report said that home shopping is still at an embryonic stage in all three countries, with around 10 per cent of Web users in the UK, France and Germany making online purchases in the last month.
While conceding that he believed this was true at present, Averbuch said that the UK was ?at the end of the first wave of Internet development as a commercial and transactional model". He believes it is ahead of the rest of Europe in most online areas, with the exception of banking in Germany.
?We have gone past the stage of crawling on our hands and knees and we are now wobbling tentatively on our feet. The consumer demands a lot from the Net and is looking for real added value,? he said.
Overall, the findings indicated that nine per cent of the UK and German populations had used the Internet during December 1997, while France was behind on six per cent.
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