Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Got an early exclusive look at a fascinating survey by ACNielsen about online shopping worldwide.

The study of 21,000 web users in 38 countries, to be made public later today, found that online shopping habits vary radically by country.

The US is way behind Europe in the amount of online shopping (ranking 11 worldwide), perhaps because mall shopping is so much easier than shopping in a European city. This encourages Europeans to shop online.

What people purchase online is very different country-by-country. In South Korea one third of online shoppers purchase nutritional/cosmetic goods, while the global average is just 10 percent.

Payment for online shopping - not surprisingly - are dominated by credit card (visa) and bank transfer globally.

BUT cash on delivery is the second most popular way to pay for purchases in Europe!

I was surprised by Europe's cash on delivery preference, but affirmed it last night at a dinner in Paris. French people at the supper said they do not trust the web so prefer to see the goods before paying. They also said their lack of trust makes them very reluctant to use eBay!

Similar to cellphones, the technology of online shopping may be uniform, but the way in which people interact with it varies by country.

Anyone come across other differences of usage of an identical platforms?


By the way, I have the full powerpoint presentation on this survey if anyone wants to see it am happy to forward it along. Just email me.

in Paris they feel more confident with on-line purchasing via mini-tel which was integrated with French society long before the Internet ref:

I have been working in the internet industry in France for over 10 years and I can tell you :
- The minitel is almost dead, there a few people (mostly elderly people) still ordering by Minitel but not a lot
- I have yet to meet someone who pays with Cash on Delivery in France !

I'm not sure about this, but I believe the high prices have something to do with this as well, in terms of Europe. Here in Finland books and CDs, especially, are very high priced and thus I almost always order them online, compared to the expensive alternative of getting the book somewhere down the road. It's worth waiting a week and saving half the price.

The fact that Europe is very diverse might also have something to do with this. Many products are only available in their originating countries and thus people need to order them anyway and ordering them online is just a natural extension to doing it by phone. (Foreign literature is still quite hard to get locally and translations take a long time so ordering the originals in English is always a better option for me personally).

Other areas that are different: TV and radio? (dubbing would account for continued differences.) My daughter tells me that they think UK English is much harder to understand than US English - which, according to her, has to do with the fact that her classmates watch Friends in US English and BBC News programs in UK English (with plenty of polysyllables).

Wikipedia uses also vary by region - I think Jimbo Wales mentioned that in the Japanese one, things are discussed for a long time in the Talk pages before committing to edit the actual article?

I work for a company that sells on-line in many different countries, and we definitely see a difference in the methods used to purchase in different countries. In North America, the majority of our customers purchase using a credit card, but in Europe less than half the purchases are done with credit cards; COD and debit (Switch/Solo) are more popular options there.

you can't really draw any conclusions about the online experience in particular from this. The whole retail landscape is very different.

How was the coverage of Japan in this? I'd bet that COD or bank transfer far outweigh credit card transactions here, but I'd love to be proven wrong. While direct transfer and COD may look convenient to the customer, the smart reason for business to use them here is that the transaction charges are passed on to the customer rather than the business having to pay the credit card transaction fee. Since most credit cards here are also relatively consumer hostile (annual fees, not allowing customer to choose monthly payments, no "extended warantee" type services, etc) consumers see little advantage and dont mind bearing the cost burden of transactions.

A very interesting post.
Online shopping is growing slowly but steadily here in Malaysia. According to a study I conducted, I found that buying tickets online is the most popular.

One factor contributing to the slow growth of e-commerce in Malaysia is the fact that a majority of the potential online shoppers (University students) don't have credit cards. Cash-on-delivery is a great idea but I haven't seen any online merchants using this facility here apart from Domino's Pizza.

I still think the world is waiting for a proper way of paying bills over the Internet. Credit cards are really ropey for a variety of reasons, and Paypal is hardly any better. Web 2.0 payments! Yeah!

Antoin: I think mobile phones will ultimately prove to be the ideal form of payment for many things online and elsewhere.

Back in my high-tech services career, I ran into something similar - so this doesn't surprise me, but does fascinate me.

Back then, it was phone support vs web support vs chat vs email. Web support was new and chat was VERY new, and it was interesting to watch the adoption rates on things like web-based replacement parts ordering vs chat for sysadmin questions and how they differed from country to country. I don't think anyone studied it in detail, but I saw it because I was working a lot with our subsidiaries and distributors around the world.

One of the fascinating things was that it wasn't uniform by region. In any given question, India might be more like Brasil, or Korea might be more like Czech Republic.

I'm betting there are some very complex social/cultural influences going on...

Interesting stuff!

I should have said... in the case of online shopping, there's surely economic factors involved as well - as in Antti's comment about books and CDs.

But it's the intersection of these complex influences that's the interesting question for me. Anyone seen anything with more info?


I am interested in what you are saying here. Online shopping and possibility of paying bills over the Internet really useful think. It can help us to safe our time. You do not have to drive to the mall, park, hike inland for a mile or so, buy stuff, hike back, and drive home.You don’t have to push past slowpokes in the crowded aisles; you don’t have to wait for a salesclerk to finish slurping a soda; you don’t have to suffer embarrassment as you buy intimate apparel or health products. But there are plenty of stores that really care about privacy, so you don’t have to settle for one that seems indifferent to your concerns.

While people's behaviours are definitely different in different parts of the world, one fact I am sure holds true, people loves saving money. I have yet to meet anybody saying they do not care about saving a dollar or two here and there.
One of the many advantages of online shopping is being able to compare prices. Web sites like will become an essential tool before purchasing products / services.

I'm writing on my BA thesis right now about e-commerce in consumer electronics in Europe. It will be finished in a few days and handed in at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. If anyone is interested in getting a copy, just write me an email.