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Europe could take five years to catch US in e-commerce

Where are the European AOL's and Yahoo!'s? They could be a long time coming according to recent reports

Just exactly how wired is European business? is a question gaining much currency lately as just about everyone from Larry Ellison (he thinks Europeans still don't "get it") to Mori (they think the EU's not lagging the US by that much) expressing a view.

The question is an important one, because the one thing all the analysts agree on is that global e-business -- not just retail, but services, and business to business e-trade, is going to grow massively in the next five years. With various local success stories, like Freeserve in the UK, Pixel Park in Germany, and Wanadoo in France, there are reasons to be optimistic, but more soberingly Europe is yet to produce a global net giant to compete with the likes of Yahoo!, e-Bay, or AOL.

Creating the right regulatory and entrepreneurial environment for Internet companies to thrive may be Europe's toughest challenge. Spain's prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar spoke to this point last week in Berlin. "Our problem is not the lack of a scientific or technical base. It is the lack of a stimulus for business initiatives, which is the key to North America's success".

Whilst part of the challenge to create the right environment rests with national government's and the EU itself, the business community must also rise to the challenge of building world class Internet companies, say analysts. A recent study for UPS Europe Business Monitor polled 1500 top executives across Europe, and found that they believe European businesses will match their US rivals in terms of their "e-capabilities" in three to five years.

A recent Mori report, cast doubt on the traditional view that Europe is actually behind the US at all. "US companies are only slightly ahead in the use of the Internet for buying products and services, selling products and services, and financial transactions, compared with the UK". There is plenty of evidence that in terms of other potentially significant e-commerce platforms -- next generation phones, mobile devices and interactive television -- Europe is actually leading the US and the rest of the world.

The UPS Europe Business Monitor survey reports that 55% of the UK-based executives polled, said that their firms already use the Internet for e-commerce, ahead of all other European executives surveyed and the only country where the figure topped 50%. In other e-commerce news today, the Royal Institute of Surveyors (RICS) are predicting the death of the high street -- with online sales taking the lion's share of retail by the year 2020 they say.

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