Europe will quickly catch the US in the number of online users, creating major opportunities for small companies selling on the Internet.
This is according to the European president of analyst company IDC, Roberto Masiero, speaking at the IDC Ecommerce Forum in Monte Carlo today. He said that ecommerce would enable small businesses with 10 to 99 employees "to get rid of geographic barriers".
He envisages that 50 per cent of business done on the Internet will be by companies that fit into this economic model, their advantage being that they are small and nimble enough to adapt to online business.
Market research company Forrester agrees. In a recent report it maintained that there will be many areas where local services will be essential, such as travel and groceries.
Masiero estimates that in three years Europe will have as many people connected to the Internet as the US. He also envisages that 50 per cent of Internet users will be women, which will represent an enormous new online purchasing power.
"Women are a different model, they don't surf the Internet so much and they are the decision maker in the household," he said, warning however, that whilst the last four years have been those of "discovery" for .com companies, the next four years will be ones of "competition".
Serious players will have to, "target new online enterprise, meet new customer needs and build an online image."
Masiero believes that there will also be huge opportunities for application service providers who will be able to piggy back on the success of small businesses online.
"Around 30 per cent to 50 per cent of ecommerce business is outside normal business hours, so companies will have to support it," he explained.
Whilst traditional IT executives are, "cautious, analytical and structured with plenty of scars on their skin", net executives are "risktakers, creative, optomistic and early adopters."
He likened this to swapping a suit for a baseball hat. He therefore warned that any company that underestimates the Internet, "risks losing substantial market share."
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