Australian Internet users are avoiding local sites in droves, according to a report released last week by industry analyst wwwconsult.
Of the 1.4 billion page views Australians called up in March, 940 million were from US sites, 455 million were local sites and 15 million a combination of all other countries.
The statistics are not comforting to local businesses attempting to generate traditional business through a Web site, participate in e-commerce, or simply advertise a local product on a local site.
"This has been the reality for a while now but a proportion of users have been moving more towards Australian sites, about 1 per cent every two months," said wwwconsult media analyst Ian Webster.
"Australia has been slow to develop online business but we are now getting more sites that are bigger and richer," claims Webster. And as far as retail sites are concerned, Australia is actually quite competitive, scoring 50 per cent of all hits.
"Amazon.com and CD Now get about 50 per cent of the traffic. Locally, Dell, Gateway, and Harris Technology are the top three, with Adalong, Software Warehouse People, and Computer Market.com getting the remaining hits, and com-pany's like IntaFlora getting a few as well," said Webster.
What Australia is currently lacking, though quickly learning, is that to generate traffic a Web site needs to provide good customer experience and establish a recognisable Internet brand. "Retail sites have to make it easy for users and make the whole experience an exercise in good customer relations," advised Webster.
For example, Amazon's brand presence might be a slightly unrealistic goal for local companies but it illustrates the power a brand can bring to a Web site, Webster said. "Amazon is such a large and prominent Internet brand. First-time online buyers are attracted to it because they consider it a good and safe experience."
The almost indelible shift towards Australian sites indicates that Australian companies are taking this advice on board.
"The shift is a combination of two things. First, it has taken the Australian retail industry a long time to develop customer-focused sites but they are finally doing it. Second, as newer people come into the industry, they start with Australian content and focus and then move to a more international flavour. It used to be that you started with a US focus," claimed Webster.
To keep the momentum flowing back onto local shores, Australian businesses planning to execute Internet strategies need to overcome their current conservative attitude. "The difference between Australia and America is not the technology," said Webster. "It is the attitude and enthusiasm in embracing online technology."
Businesses are not the only ones Webster is holding accountable for the current state of affairs. Web developers must begin to invest in putting businesses online in more than an information context. "It does take developers time to learn how to put business online, but now we have gone through the technology stage we need to start looking at business and customer issues," Webster asserted.