A NEW report on Ireland's digital future contains many interesting statistics about Ireland today.
While the future never seems to happen as predicted, the research by Dublin-based Amarach on the digital economy and published last week highlights the enormous changes taking place in Ireland these days and the opportunities these changes create for companies.
Amarach reckons there are already 2.6 million online shoppers here who spend around €3.7bn.
While spending on travel is an obvious category, who would have thought that three-fifths of people say they would prefer to buy health insurance and products online than in person?
Irish people are also embracing the internet when it comes to researching products, with eight out of 10 internet users logging on to compare products and prices and then buying locally.
The reverse also happens, with six out of 10 people looking locally and then buying online. Either way, the internet is now a fact of life for all retailers.
While broadband can often appear frustratingly slow, the evidence suggests that Irish broadband speeds are faster than the UK or Germany, with more than a third of houses now able to access very fast broadband.
Ireland ranks 15th in the world when it comes to speed and ninth in Europe. The number of people embracing the internet is rising quickly; eight out 10 adults now use the internet compared to five out of 10 just five years ago and they typically spend 2.6 hours online every weekday.
The news is not all good; consultants Booz & Company reckons Ireland has what it calls a digitisation score of 47 compared to highest ranking Norway, which is at 64. The digitisation index tries to measure the actual usage of the internet rather than speeds.
When it comes to business and work, the internet is changing the way we think of the office. A third of adults now uses the internet at home for work purposes – which is incredible when one considers that only about 60pc of the adult population has a job.
The most common use of the internet for work is checking emails, but more than half of us appear to spend at least some time working on reports and the like. Half of all adults say they would be interested in running a business from home using the internet.
The survey shows that 59pc of companies have employees working at home and more than 50pc of companies have up to 5pc of staff at home. Most people work from home one or two days a week. Companies with poor growth prospects tend to have fewer people working at home.
An obvious challenge and opportunity for Irish retailers is a preference among Irish people for local websites when buying things but a reported lack of websites. Some 61pc of people say they do not know of an equivalent Irish website when they buy from a foreign website but would purchase from an Irish site if they could.
The two reasons most frequently given for picking overseas websites are prices and choice.
When it comes to banking, there are significant age differences. Bill payment is most common among the 35- to 44-year-olds and this age group is more likely to use internet banking then younger consumers – a sign of where the most financial stress is these days, perhaps.