Study: Western Europe Hungry For All Things Digital

According to a new study by Forrester Research B.V., the Internet’s reach in Western Europe will nearly double over the next three years as digital technology becomes more commonplace.

The projected jump in Internet penetration from 19 to 33 percent is not expected to translate into instant profits for companies investing in the European market, however.

Although it is measured as one market, Western Europe is actually a segmented group of markets with their similar levels of industrial development not necessarily meaning they all use the Internet the same way.

In its new Technographics Europe Report, Forrester argues that the expansion of the Internet and related digital technologies will hinge on consumer attitudes in each country. These attitudes will “shape the technology landscape within Europe and lead to divergent digital lifestyles across the continent,” the research firm states.

Forrester surveyed nearly 17,000 consumers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom to determine attitudes about and motivations for using the Internet and other digital technologies.

“Despite the political and cultural differences that exist within Europe, consumers own many of the same electronics products and exhibit similar online behaviors,” Technographics Europe Analyst Reineke Reitsma said.

“These similarities suggest that consumer demand for technology is primarily needs-driven, and that these needs — for entertainment, security, or status, for example — are shared across borders.”

Internet Access Riding High

Positive factors include the Internet’s ability to open doors to the rest of the world and dropping prices for digital products, most notably personal computers. Forrester predicts that PC ownership in Europe will boom over the next four years, with some countries passing the United States in percentage of homes with computers.

Sweden is leading that charge with a 72 percent penetration rate, and overall PC penetration in Western Europe is expected to rise from its current 36 percent to 46 percent by 2003.

“The Internet is the killer app that will motivate most of these purchases,” Forrester adds. The online population will grow from 33.9 million to nearly 60 million people over the next three years, and more than 20 million will have broadband access.

The European market is already tops in wireless telephones and will stay there over the next three years, putting the phones in the pockets of nearly 100 million adults, Forrester says.

European Internet use will get a boost from these digital mobile phones, the researcher predicts. Already, 12 percent of Europe’s Internet users spend 10 or more hours per week online, making them prime candidates for the more flexible Internet access that wireless phone companies are now working on. By 2003, Forrester expects nearly 30 percent of Europe’s Web surfers to use devices other than personal computers to access the Internet.

Cultural Variations

Despite political and cultural differences from one country to the next, Forrester says that European Internet users tend to use similar on a regular basis. E-mail, Internet search engines and product information supplied by company Web sites are the most common uses of the Internet in Europe, regardless of country.

Which products they buy, however, varies from one country to another. Germans are twice as likely to buy books online as the Dutch, while the British are twice as likely as Swedes to purchase airline tickets online, Forrester says.

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