Traditional retailers have underestimated the impact of the Web and risk losing market share to competitors if they continue to ignore it as a sales channel.
According to industry analysts IDC, many merchants do not grasp that the huge increase in the number of households going online is driving growth and making the Net a valuable distribution channel.
Liz Frankle, analyst at IDC, said: "Online users have become a nation within a nation. Merchants can no longer ignore the impact of the growing online population. As the percentage of PC households accessing the Internet increases, ecommerce in the US also grows exponentially."
Large department stores have been particularly cautious of embracing the Web as a trading channel, she continued.
"Many were nervous of cannibalising their stores. Too often they would just put a few items up on the Web that they would normally sell through their catalogues," she added.
But the study did not indicate there was any significant demographic difference between those US users that would and would not buy online. This implies that it is just a matter of time before ecommerce virgins make their first online purchase.
However, there are differences in attitudes towards the Web between the two groups. IDC?s research found that online buyers were more engaged by the Internet, generally spending more time online and being avid readers of news and information sites. They were also more sensitive to pricing issues and more concerned about the need to improve navigation than users that do not buy goods over the Internet.
However, as the number of online buyers grows, retailers need to view the Web as another trading channel and make the same effort to fulfil customer requirements that they would if dealing with traditional distribution methods, Frankle concluded.
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