Europe's new single currency, the euro, is not going to kick start ecommerce in the continent overnight, but will instead expose many of its current inhibitors, according to analysts.
According to Martha Bennett, vice president of European research at Giga Information Group, there are still too many unresolved issues for companies conducting cross border ecommerce.
Apart from obvious language and cultural barriers and the fact that all the countries are at very different stages of Internet adoption, there are many more practical problems, Bennett said here on the second day of Giga's Business Online 99 conference.
The main inhibitor is the infrastructure, the low availability of high speed Internet access from the home and high access costs compared to the US, said Bennett.
A lack of uniform regulation across Europe is another major barrier, she said. Laws governing what you can advertise and to who change from country to country, while consumer protection and privacy and data protection remain big issues.
The euro will highlight these problems as companies try to sell promote and sell the same goods across Europe, said Bennett.
"There are still many unresolved issues which are stopping business. For example, the common market doesn't exist in terms of warranty across Europe," she said, adding that there is no national and pan-European infrastructures for micro payments online and digital signatures.
"The euro will crassly highlight the restrictive payment systems available to consumers. We already have one pan-European payment system - the credit card," said Bennett. "With the euro we will have two, but only one can be used online."
Different chip card systems are being developed across Europe, but they are not compatible, and users still have to load cash onto smart cards from an outside source. "Until I can top up my smart card in the comfort of my home then I am not going to use it," said Bennett.
Despite these inhibitors, Bennett urged companies not to be discouraged but instead to look at Europe as a whole, as a huge market with enormous buying power.
Companies must also take advantage of the areas where Europe is ahead of the US, such as GSM mobile phones, said Bennett.
"I urge anyone engaged in ecommerce, or who uses the Internet for corporate computing to not ignore the mobile phone as an ecommerce delivery channel," she said.
Innovative uses of GSM include integration with corporate systems, direct delivery of value added services and loading of ecash onto smart cards.
Finally, Bennett urged companies to alternatively look at ecommerce as a euro enabler to survive in the changing market, "Do not wait for the euro to make miracles for business, but change your business to make the most of the euro."
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