What Americans Do Best

Confessions of online shopaholics

Internet users in other countries may boast magnificently faster connection speeds and way better mobile-phone connectivity, but they're not buying as much stuff online as Americans are. Okay, maybe that's not surprising. Americans are notorious consumers. Nevertheless, while Web users globally are happy to search out information online, many of them won't pull out their credit cards and hit buy.

That's the latest finding in the World Internet Project International Report for 2009 from the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, a vast research study that has tracked Internet behavior all over the world for the last eight years. For 2009, the report focused on Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel,Macao, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. While the researchers don't always ask every question in every country, the results offer a glimpse into the international face of Web behavior.

For instance, a sharp contrast exists between browsing and buying. About 35 percent of users in eight of the countries studied said they go online at least weekly to look for information on a product. But, more than half of those who go online in seven of the countries have never made a purchase online. The percentage of users who never buy online ranges from 12 percent in the United States all the way up to 92 percent in Colombia.

Online purchasing is one of the few areas where the rest of the world is behind the United States," says Jeffrey Cole, founder and organizer of the project.

Other countries lag the United States because of a lack of familiarity and comfort with online buying, Cole explains. At least 70 percent of Internet users age 18 or older cited some level of concern when or if they bought something online.

But there are other financial areas where worldwide Internet users are more comfortable conducting Web transactions. About 30 percent or more of users in seven of the countries said they go online to pay bills at least monthly. Meanwhile, about 25 percent of users in eight countries rely on online banking weekly; 35 percent do so monthly. In general though, people are a little more reticent to buy stocks online, with China and Macao the only countries over 10 percent in this area.

Some of the concerns about transactions appear to rise from a general wariness about online information. In 10 of the countries studied, 40 percent or more of Internet users said they believed that half, or even less than half, of the information on the Internet is reliable. Concern about the reliability of information was most prevalent in China, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Israel, Colombia, the United States and New Zealand.

Internet users also watch less television. However, now that broadband has become dominant, Internet users aren't carving as much time away from tv to be online. Rather than dialing up and spending 20 to 30 minutes a day on the Web twice a day, they're getting online for two to three minutes as many as 20 to 50 times a day, Cole says. "It's no longer interfering with conversations and it's occurring during the natural rhythms," he adds.

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