The viability of the Internet as a channel for online shopping has been called into question by two contrasting surveys of public opinion in the UK and US.
In the UK, a major survey of public attitudes towards e-commerce carried out by Mori uncovered an apathetic response to the public network among both Internet users and non-users. While the Mori survey shows consumer fears about privacy and information sharing as a major obstacle to acceptance, the US poll indicates that where the technology exists to safeguard personal information, consumers are failing to take it on board.
With the Internet more entrenched as a commercial medium, US shoppers indicate a high overall awareness of digital wallets - encryption software designed to safeguard cyber transactions - but show little inclination to use them according to a BizRate.com survey of 14,000 US online buyers.
According to Los Angelese-based BizRate.com, which provides a comparison-shopping marketplace on the Web, 38 percent of those surveyed were familiar with the digital wallet and its abilities to secure payment and shipping information for online orders. Another quarter of surveyed online shoppers had heard of the term but were not aware of the use for digital wallets, while the remaining 37 percent of respondents were completely unfamiliar with the product.
"Overall awareness of digital wallets is high, with nearly two of out of three shoppers surveyed by BizRate.com familiar with the application," says Seth Geiger, vice president of professional services at BizRate.com. "But as with other technological tools, like e-mail, usage will lag behind awareness until the benefits outweigh the learning curve. Given the convenience and safety provided by digital wallets, savvy online shoppers should begin to use them more often."
Of those in the BizRate.com survey who responded that they were familiar with digital wallets, only 22 percent had actually used one for an online transaction. Within this category, five percent claimed to use digital wallets frequently, 12 percent occasionally, and five percent choosing to no longer use digital wallets. Online buyers familiar with digital wallets tend to be younger males, according to BizRate.com's survey results. However, buyers that frequently use the application tend to be older females. Both groups purchase from a wider variety of merchants and typically spend more online on average in a month compared with those respondents unfamiliar with digital wallets.
"Based on our survey, those shoppers who use digital wallets frequently spend on average nearly $200 a month online," adds Geiger. "Clearly, these are active online consumers who are taking advantage of a key benefit of shopping on the Web."
In the UK, a three-stage poll of public opinion conducted by Mori on behalf of the National Consumer Council found that among those who had not yet tried the Internet, there is little motivation to start. Even among Internet users themselves, well over half (55 per cent) could not give a reason to start buying or to buy more online.
Privacy and security are major contributing factors to this reluctance, says the NCC. Many consumers are uneasy about who has access to information about them, how they use it, and who they share it with.