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Recent Eurisko surveys confirm, in part, the picture that we saw last year, but there are some relevant changes. Other sources report different data, but the broad trends are fairly clear.
Let's start with distribution by geographical area.
No change from last year; but an analysis of "new users" shows an improvement in the South.
Other surveys show a different picture; for instance Ipsos-Explorer reports a higher concentration in the North-East and a more balanced situation in central Italy. Bocconi confirms a higher level in the North-West.
There is still higher concentration in the cities but net usage is spreading to smaller towns. The same trend is confirmed by other surveys.
There is considerable change many more young people online. Other surveys still show concentration in the 25-54 age group, but agree on an increasing number of young adults and teenagers. Penetration is still very low with people over 54. But the net is not dominated by the young. The more active and experienced people are mostly "grownups" and of course they are getting older.
There is still a (pretty obvious) concentration in higher education levels, but there are many more people online with lower school degrees. This is due only in part to an influx of young people that are still at school.
Here again, we see considerable improvement: more people online from not-so-high income levels. Data on "new users" show an even higher percentage of medium or medium-low income people.
This doesn't indicate "replacement" of television with the internet; quite simply, the people on the net aren't in the same categories as the "heavy users" of television. People online use other information media more than the average. The difference, however, is declining: for instance readers of newspapers "every day" are 52 percent of people that were online in 1997 or earlier, 42 percent of those that came online in 1998-99.
Other cultural differences between people online and the general average are shown in the next graph.
Of course there is exaggeration in all "cultural" activities: people don't read, go to the theater, visit museums or bookstores or use the internet as often as they say when they are interviewed. But what is relevant here is the difference between internet "users" and the average. People online are much more active culturally than the rest of the population.
Once again, this picture is "optimistic"; unfortunately much less than a third of Italy's population understands English. But it's no surprise that people online know the international language much better than the rest.
According to Eurisko, women are 37 percent of the people online. Other surveys report a lower percentage (Ipsos-Explorer 32 percent, Assinform 30) but all agree that it's increasing. Women are 44-46 percent of new "users". The ratio of women online in Italy is above the European average.
Only five percent of today's "users" have five years' experience. 76 percent of the people online today weren't connected before 1997. Probably by the end of this year half of the people will be "new" online for the first time in 1999.
The net in Italy (as well as in several other places) is young. By age, but especially by lack of experience. It will take a while before usage and behavior patterns take shape - especially in a constantly changing environment. The growth rate is high, but this is only the beginning of an evolution that will be largely unpredictable.
A Bocconi team conducted a census of Italian companies online. The definition is very restrictive counting only e-commerce websites where products can be bought online. Even so, the number is quite small: about one thousand companies. But they are more than the 300 that were found by another study two years ago. Two thirds are "tourist" sites.
Something is missing here for instance it's surprising that this census found no clothing and only two sites offering services. Of course the number of sites doesn't represent volume of activity, but there are remarkable differences between what is offered and what people are inclined to buy. Before we get to that, let's look at the distribution of e-commerce websites by area as reported by Bocconi.
Quite unbalanced, especially when most of the sites in this survey are about tourism.
If we look at the situation from the other side what people buy the numbers in Italy are very small. Very few people buy something online and those that do often buy abroad (especially in the US). According to a survey by Ipsos-Explorer (February 1999) people who buy online are mostly men (75 percent), age 25-44 (65 percent) with high education and high income.
According to Asssinform "intentions to buy" are mostly music (38 percent), books (31), tickets for shows and events (30), travel (20), hardware (20), software (20) and online banking (18).
According to Bocconi, this is what people buy online.
The picture looks quite different in the Eurisko survey.
The differences aren't surprising. The numbers of people buying are so small that they are a tiny part of the sample and statistical values are questionable.
A study by Eurisko indicates that online buying is a relatively late development in user's behavior patterns. People want to experiment and learn before they get into any transaction. Most of the people that buy online are experienced users.
The next chart has hardly any statistical value, but I think it's interesting: it reports the online buying habits of people subscribing to a local mailing list about online marketing.
Of course these people are not "average"; but they may be setting a pattern that other people will follow. Their choices, by the way, are not very different from the general trend; except for the fact that they buy more books and information services.
There is a comment by Eurisko that I find particularly interesting: "In its turbulent growth the internet has become progressively more heterogeneous and diversified."
It's more and more important to understand that the net is not a single environment (or "market") but a communication system in which many different behaviors evolve. A problem, maybe, for anyone looking for simplistic solutions; but a great opportunity for people and organizations who understand the value of diversity.
List of links
For the convenience of readers that print the text before they read it, here is a list of the links.
The power of stupidity http://gandalf.it/stupid/
The value of trust http://gandalf.it/netmark/netmar35.htm#heading03
"The Caring Economy" http://gandalf.it/netmark/netmar36.htm#heading02
The value of relationships http://gandalf.it/netmark/netmar35.htm#heading04
Data on the internet in Europe http://gandalf.it/netmark/netmar36.htm#heading03
Internet "users" March 1998 http://gandalf.it/netmark/netmar16.htm#heading03
Italian companies online in 1997 http://gandalf.it/netmark/netmark6.htm#heading04