The internet will contribute an additional €6bn to the Irish economy by 2016, a report commissioned by media group UPC has claimed.
The study reckons that online shopping will underpin the steep growth in e-commerce in the country. Some 2.6 million Irish internet shoppers are expected to spend €3.7bn this year, rising to €5.7bn, or 7pc of all consumer spending, by 2016.
The Amarach Consulting report estimates that the internet will contribute €11.3bn annually to the Irish economy in 2016 if current trends continue. The internet economy currently accounts for about 3pc of Irish GDP and this will double to 6pc in the next four years, the study reckons.
But much of the money being spent online by Irish shoppers at the moment permanently leaves these shores. American internet giants such as Amazon have a substantial Irish customer base, while consumers also buy items such as songs and movies from Apple's iTunes service.
UPC Ireland chief executive Dana Strong said that 70pc of Irish consumers already frequently shop online, while people here spend about 2.6 hours on average online every day.
The survey found that, on average, Irish adults who shop online are spending about €116 every month via the internet.
While a third of adults said their broadband is the one thing they couldn't live without, over other utilities.
Ms Strong added that 55pc of the businesses surveyed said they intend to hire extra staff within the next two years.
"Businesses clearly recognise the opportunity that broadband represents," said Ms Strong. "If we can achieve a digital economy equal to that in the UK, we stand to gain 18,000 jobs."
The survey also found that 80pc of adults use the internet, up from less than 50pc in 2007.
Launching the report, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the "key ingredients" to achieving Ireland's potential are high-speed broadband and digital participation by both consumers and businesses.
"As a progressive knowledge economy, trading goods and services globally, we need to be better connected than most in the world and we need to embrace the opportunities the internet makes possible," he said.