Making e-tail shoppers out of e-mail users

Converting e-mail users into e-tail shoppers on the Internet is the key to taking e-commerce in Australia to the next stage of development, ACNielsen reported last week.

Releasing findings on Australian Internet users for the first time, the ACNielsen Netwatch data supported figures issued by the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showing only 5 per cent of Web surfers actually purchase online.

ACNielsen attributed this trend to the infancy of e-commerce in Australia, the need for greater bandwidth and improving site content.

Estimating the local online shopping market to be about 18 months behind the US, ACNielsen's Pacific managing director, Brian Milnes, said data indicates the B2C model is alive and well here despite Australian Internet users showing a distinct preference for the big brand US sites.

"There is no doubt e-commerce is only in its infancy in this country, but we foreshadow enormous growth within the next five years," he said.

The value of online retail sales in Australia now is less than 0.2 per cent of total retail sales; however, Milnes estimates this figure to increase to more than 1.5 per cent by 2005.

Netwatch results for the Asia Pacific show less than two in 10 Internet users have reported making a single purchase.

The number one ranked reason for using the Internet is to send and receive e-mail.

Milnes said cyber window shopping is common but figures show there are still obstacles to actually completing a transaction. Labelled "shopping cart abandonment", ACNielsen data showed 80 per cent of visitors to a site leave after window shopping, the remainder place items in a shopping cart before half of them depart, with less than 10 per cent proceeding to the checkout and only 5 per cent completing a transaction.

Milnes said the key factor in this process is bandwidth on the Internet and e-commerce design and content.

"Shopping sites have to be easy for consumers to navigate and transact business; entrepreneurs have to be very sensitive to the fact that surfers are extremely impatient, given the ease of a click," he said.

"Unless you can make the shopping experience easy and enjoyable, they will head off somewhere else.

"Sites also need to develop partnerships with high-traffic local sites and get a solid fix on their customers' Web behaviour - where does traffic come from and where do the [customers] go."

The company's Web research has spread to 20 countries and this is expected to reach 30 by 2001.

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