Regional e-commerce differences

Thomas Crampton guestblogs at Joi Ito’s place about how there are regional differences in e-commerce usage patterns (based on his article in International Herald Tribune.)

Actually, I am not surprised that there are differences – but I was a little surprised that online purchasing was so low in the States compared to Europe. Europeans don’t use credit cards to the same extent as Americans do – both because they trust them less and because debit cards are more common (but not yet ported to the Net). I also think that US shoppers use the telephone for shopping much more than in Europe (thus causing underreporting of e-commerce numbers) – credit cards can be used over the phone in the US, but not normally in Europe. The infrastructure for physical goods transportation is much better in the US (thanks to UPS and Fedex), meaning that telephone and mail orders shopping was developed earlier and over a larger area. I also agree with the mall hypothesis – not only are malls easier available in the US, but they also tend to have more inventory and greater selection, rather than running out of winter coats in early December like they do here in Norway.

Regional differences come both from culture and from differences in timing of introduction of technologies. Credit cards were slow in Europed because the giro payment system was introduced (obviating paper checks) which allowed fast interbank clearance and interoperable debit cards. Cellphones were standardized earlier in Europe because the countries were smaller and needed roaming agreements. Cell phones grew faster in Europe because the fixed line phones were more expensive (the local call is still metered in most of Europe), because voice mail and 800 numbers did not catch on until late, and because the mobile phone market was a competitive almost from the start. In the US, with larger land areas, coverage was worse and the alternative for the consumer (800 numbers, pay phones and phone cards, and voice mail) was seen as adequate for a long time. In Japan, the high degree of Internet surfing via cell phone was due to a proprietary and almost monopolistic player offering all layers in the function stack – and the fact that many Japanese spend long hours on public transportation and have time to surf at 9600 bps.

Other areas where they may be difference can be TV – I think the regional differences would be larger in Europe, preserved by dubbing. On a side note, my daughter tells me that her fellow students think UK English is much harder to understand than US English – which she attributes to her classmates watching Friends in US English and more polysyllabic BBC News UK English.

Wikipedia uses also vary by region – I think Jimbo Wales mentioned that in the Japanese version of Wikipedia, things are hashed out for a long time in the Talk pages before committing to edit the actual article?

Consumers are sensible, but a little slow. They use what works best for them. And what works best differs by country, for reasons of culture and history. Even under Web 2.0