Internet use in Western Europe almost doubled last year, but the number of users buying online remains low.
Analyst IDC said that at the turn of the millennium there were some 81 million Western Europeans online (out of a total population of about 391 million) who spent a total of 10.3bn euros (£6.2bn) during 1999. At the end of 1998 there were 41 million online, spending only 2.7bn euros.
IDC predicts that the number of Western Europeans online will grow to 215 million by the end of 2003, representing more than 50 per cent of the population. Online spending will reach more than 125bn euros.
Stefan Elmer, research analyst for IDC's European internet and ecommerce strategies programme, said: "Although the number of internet users rocketed in 1999, the share of users that buy online is still relatively limited.
"Only 15 per cent of the users [about three per cent of the entire population] purchase products or services online every quarter, which probably reflects the lack of trust in the shops and online purchasing processes."
However, IDC predicts that 20 per cent of the total population will regularly shop online by the end of 2003.
Elmer attributes the rise to the increasing number of access devices, saying that they will triple from their current number of 45 million worldwide during the next four years.
"The PC is the main internet access device, but alternative access devices such as screenphones and set-top boxes will supplement the PC to an increasing extent over the coming years," he said.
A separate survey conducted independently by Pro Active backs up IDC's findings that Europeans are reluctant to shop online.
The survey, entitled 'Pan European Internet Monitor', surveyed 14,000 people and more than 150,000 internet users in 15 European countries. It found that less than eight per cent of Europeans have ever bought online, compared with 15 per cent in the US.
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