Internet users across Europe will soon enjoy free calls to their Internetservice providers (ISP), according to analyst company IDC.
As part of his annual predictions, Frank Gens, IDC's senior vice president, said within the next 12 to 18 months online merchants will pay consumers' local call charges if they shop on their site.
"It will be the equivalent of toll free 0800 numbers," he said.
Gens also predicted a massive upheaval among 'dot coms', as pure Internet companies die and are replaced by merchants that have a presence in the cyber and real worlds.
"The bricks and clicks model will be successful," he said, adding that pure Web retailers, such as Amazon.com, will partner with companies that have real world distribution networks, for example online grocer, Webvan.com.
Traditional bricks and mortar companies will continue to attempt to take their brands onto the Internet and some will continue to "fall on their faces," said Gens. One example from 1999 was Levi.com pulling out of selling jeans on its site because it failed to commit enough money to build an efficient ecommerce facility.
Web stalwart Amazon will begin to be challenged by shopping portals created by sites such as Yahoo, MSN or Lycos that provide links to multiple merchants and enable consumers to compare prices.
Free Web access will become popular in the US too as bricks and mortar retailers become free ISPs by partnering with Internet firms. One example is Kmart linking up with Yahoo. This will be a blow to America Online, said Gens. Although it has tied up with another US retailer, Walmart, it is merely offering 'value priced' Internet access, meaning consumers still have to pay, he said.
Use of the Internet in Europe will also boom. The region will be the single biggest online market by 2003, according to IDC.
"Some 14 per cent of countries around the world will have 40 per cent of their population online, and 10 of them will be European countries," said Gens.
And finally, Gens believes that high profile chief executives of traditionaltechnology companies, such as Oracle's Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems'Scott McNealy, will throw in the towel and begin Internet startups.
"What do you do when you're an upper middle aged executive who's done it all, are tremendously wealthy and are bored out of your mind? Time to jump to an Internet startup," he said.
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