NEWS

Greeks discover e-life and start changing consumer habits, but only 4.5 percent make purchases online

Last Wednesday morning, Tassos had a university class as part of his postgraduate course, then he went shopping to let off steam. Afterward, he paid some bills, began the process of renewing his passport and at long last completed his tax declaration. Time to browse the paper over a coffee and then off to buy his groceries at the supermarket. Yet the previous Wednesday, Tassos had not budged from his home; he had sat at his desk and done everything with the click of a button. This might sound surprising but almost everything can now be done via the Internet. Over 35,000 users read over 250,000 articles every day on www.kathimerini.gr. The Internet is not only for information purposes either, it is also used for entertainment such as downloading a book while listening to music on the radio, participating in a chat forum or a market research survey and for shopping – from supermarket necessities to buying a concert ticket. Bank transactions can also be conducted via e-banking, outstanding tax matters can be settled via TAXISnet, university courses can be followed with the countless possibilities offered online by institutes worldwide, colleagues can be contacted vie e-mail and – why not? – you can even fall in love online. Many of the above operations are just a substitute for the real thing – no matter how easy it is to look at something on the screen, reading a book in the flesh offers a different kind of enjoyment. In some cases though, online activities are not mere substitutes. How would it be possible for example to gather all the civil engineers in Greece and for them to discuss issues that concern their profession other than via a website? Similarly, market research nowadays can be effectively conducted electronically. Can somebody live their life entirely on the Internet? «A year ago we wouldn’t have been able to say this in Greece,» said Association of Hellenic Internet Users president Nikos Vassilakos (www.eexi.gr). «Today, though, the possibilities offered are considerable and in a few years time someone will be able to ‘live’ their life on the Internet to a large extent. Already, much of our daily routine, everything that troubles us and pleases us, is available online.» However, only a small percentage of Greeks take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Internet. Despite the upward trend worldwide (e-commerce increased by 25 percent in the US last year with a profit of 220 billion dollars) and an increase in Internet users in Greece, e-commerce has remained unchanged for the last two years. Last year only 4.5 percent of the general population – according to a recent VPRC survey – made a purchase online either from a Greek or foreign site (mainly for tickets, hotel bookings, car rental, books, newspapers, magazines and computer consumables). The corresponding figure for 2004 was 3 percent. According to the Observatory on the Information Society, orders and purchases placed electronically with Greek companies employing over 10 workers accounted for only 7.2 and 9.4 percent of their respective totals. In a survey conducted by the National Statistics Service, the main factor inhibiting Greeks is buying habits (58 percent) followed by insecurity (44.9 percent). Likewise, only 8 percent of citizens conduct transactions with public services via the Internet, even though public departments have now made roughly 40 percent of their main services available online. According to the Observatory on the Information Society, Greeks use online public services for obtaining information and downloading and sending completed forms. However enterprises (with over 10 workers) actually prefer to conduct transactions with public services via the Internet, with a figure as high as 71 percent. In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Austria, Sweden and Norway, it is possible to access virtually all services provided by public departments online. E-banking though has been making inroads. Some 1.5 million bank customers are registered in the system. About 5 million transactions are conducted annually via the Internet, with capital movements totaling 13 billion euros. Of this amount, the largest proportion (10 million euros) involves transfers of capital within banks, while the remainder corresponds to capital transfers outside banks (remittances, payments etc) and stock market transactions.