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Executive Summary: International Outlook on Electronic Business Developments

Objectives of this study

This report is one of four special studies published by e-Business W@tch in 2005, in addition to its sector studies. While sector studies present electronic business (e-business) developments from a specific industry's perspective, special studies focus on a particular information and communication technologies (ICT) related topic, across sectors.

The objective of this special study is to present a comparative analysis of current e-business monitoring activities in major economies of the world, to summarise the main findings, and compare these initiatives with equivalent activities in the European Union (EU). Five countries outside Europe have been selected for this purpose: Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea and the USA. The selection considers the economic importance of these countries in the global economy, access to sources on e-business development, and the objective to include economies from different continents. The study identifies the major national monitoring initiatives and their institutional set-up, and features the main results as far as they have been accessible. The study concludes with some policy recommendations for international e-business monitoring in the future.

National e-business monitoring activities: similarities and differences

» In all countries and in the EU, a form of regular monitoring of electronic business activity by enterprises has been established. In all cases, the national statistical offices are involved. Some of the enterprise surveys that are conducted in this context are mandated by national law. The surveys in all countries follow the purpose of collecting data on business adoption and use of ICT, and e-business.

» Although the OECD definition of e-commerce – either broad or narrow1 – is reflected in the set-up of all national monitoring activities, the approaches used differ widely in terms of focus, methodology, and metrics applied. Any comparison of results must therefore be taken very cautiously.

» An important specification to be considered in this context is whether networks other than the internet (e.g. EDI) are included or excluded in the definition of e-business transactions and its measurement. Some surveys are rather internet-focused (for example in Australia), while others differentiate between protocols used, for example the Eurostat survey. In the case of Japan, settlement and commercial trade among establishments within the same incorporated enterprise is specifically excluded.

» National specifications differ regarding size and type of enterprises surveyed. In particular, company size thresholds in terms of minimum number of full-time employees (to be included in a survey) differ between countries and hamper direct comparability.

» Regarding the method of data collection, postal questionnaires is the prevailing data collection method in Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA. Korea applies direct interview methods and self-enumeration techniques through e-mail and internet. Australia used computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). User participation to surveys is mandatory in most countries.

Main monitoring results: e-business adoption

The findings of these monitoring activities confirm the high level of e-business activities in all five countries under study and in Europe. Main results for the international benchmarking countries are summarised in the following table.

Main survey(s)
Business Use of Information Technology survey (BUIT) Survey of Electronic Commerce and Technology
At least 41 official statistical surveys with questions related to ICT use. Most relevant for ebusiness: CUTS (Communications Usage Trend Survey), EEC (Establishment and Enterprise Census), and Surveys by ECOM (Electronic Commerce Promotion Council of Japan) Cyber Shopping Mall Survey
E-commerce Survey on Enterprise (B2B)
Data are collected in five separate Census Bureau surveys, focusing on different segments of the economy: for manufactures (ASM), wholesale trade (ATS), services (SAS), retail trade (ARTS), and the Economic Census.
Sampling frame
Snapshots - main findings
85% of firms use a computer, 74% use the internet and 25% have a web presence. 31% of firms place orders on the internet (+3%- points compared to 2002/03). 12% have received orders via internet or web. Out of those, 44% generated 5% or more of their total income in this way. The volume of e- B2B transactions is CAD 19.8 (€ 12.3) billion, representing 75% of total ecommerce by private firms. The volume of e- B2C transactions is CAD 6.6 (€ 4.1) billion (25% of total e-commerce). 7% of firms, representing 27% of gross business income, engage in e-commerce. In 2003, 80% of corporations had a website. 30% engaged in B2B ecommerce, 12% in B2C e commerce.
While B2B increased, B2C was stagnating.
Projections for 2005 estimate that e-commerce will account for 14% of total B2B and 4.5% of total B2C trade volume.
B2B transactions account for about 88% of total ecommerce.
In 2003, the B2B transaction volume increased by more than 30% compared to 2002.
B2C transactions account for about 3%, B2G (business togovernment)
for about 9% of electronic transactions.
B2C increased by 20% in 2003.
E-commerce accounts for 16.3% of total B2B and 2.0% of total retail sales.
92.7% of total ecommerce is B2B, 7.3% B2C.
In manufacturing, e-commerce accounts for more than 20% of the total value of shipments.
E-commerce outperforms total economic activity in all sectors studied.
Main trends identified
Dynamic overall development, but stagnation in the percentage of firms that sell on the internet B2B sales drive ecommerce growth;
E-commerce has high growth rates, but still accounts for less than 1% of total operating revenues for private companies.
The major ecommerce adopter in the Asia-Pacific region. B2B drives the development, accounting for close to 90% of total e-commerce
sales. B2C has recently stagnated.
Enormous growth rates in e-commerce: e-transaction volume grew by 32% from 2002 to 2003, and by 31% from 2003 to 2004 (1st quarter comparison). B2B is dominating, but B2C retail e commerce is growing fast, particularly in specific sectors (e.g. books, textiles).
Reference year
2003/4 2004 2005 (projected) 2003 2004


e-Business performance of EU enterprises in comparison

» On average, EU enterprises are head-to-head with their counterparts in other advanced economies in terms of electronic business activity. However, gaps in ebusiness adoption within the EU (i.e. between Member States) are clearly more pronounced than on aggregate level in international benchmarks, i.e. between firms from the EU-25 and the USA, Australia, Japan or other countries.

» Firms from those EU Member States which are most advanced in their information society development (the Nordic countries in particular) are not only 'e-leaders' within the EU, but constitute international benchmarks of ICT infrastructure adoption and ebusiness activity. Many of the other EU countries are well aligned with the international state-of-play in e-business. This holds true for some of the major economies in the EU, for example the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

» ICT and e-business adoption is comparatively low among firms from EU Member States which constitute the least advanced group in information society development ('third tier'). This group includes some of the new EU Member States, Greece and Portugal.

Suggestions for policy

» Information society statistics is one of the most challenging areas for the statistical community, especially at the enterprise level of analysis. Research carried out for this report shows that e-business monitoring activities in Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea and the USA differ considerably in their structure and focus. Therefore, the international comparability of results is limited and problematic.

» Considering the importance of ICT as a driver and enabler of globalisation processes, further initiatives to facilitate the international comparison of e-business developments and their impacts should be encouraged. There are several possibilities how this goal can be addressed. Three approaches are briefly presented and discussed in this report in terms of their requirements, strengths and weaknesses:

  • Approach 1: Coordination of methodology development
  • Approach 2: Coordination of decentralised data collection
  • Approach 3: The "International e-Business W@tch"

» As electronic business has a growing impact on international (cross-border) trade, and considering implications for SMEs, impacts on growth, productivity and employment, some form of international coordination and cooperation in monitoring related developments is certainly relevant. Models how to go about this task are available on a national or European level. The task is to raise them to the international level.

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