Since 1971, when Roy Tomlinson sent the first email, the rise of the Internet has been unstoppable. In 1984 there were 1,000 computers connected, a figure which rose tenfold in three years and tenfold again by 1989, when it reached 100,000 connected computers. By 1991 there were already 1 million computers connected, and the World Wide Web was created. 1993 saw the launch of the first online search engine, Wandex, followed that same year by Lycos, the first search engine to enjoy commercial success.
But at that time, in 1993, only 0.25% of the world population had access to Internet. Since then the growth has been exponential, reaching 6.77% in the year 2000, 15.79% in 2005 and 29.15% in 2010. And in only seven years it has already reached 50%: 3.77 billion people are now connected, 10% more than in 2016.
Even more spectacular is the growth in the use of social networks (up 21% to 2.79 billion people) and the use of the networks via cellphones (up 30% to 2.55 billion users).
There is substantial disparity between regions however. Africa has the lowest rates, with 29% Internet penetration, representing 362 million users. The use of social networks falls to 14% of the population and their use on cellphones to 12%, although growth is also strong. Although Internet access is proceeding slowly (it grew by 4% in one year), the use of social networks rose by 32%, and of these, 47% were via cellphones. At the other extreme is America, with 71% of the population with Internet access (up 8% from 2016), 60% using social networks (+17%) and 53% actively using their cellphones on the networks (+22%). Cellphones in this case reach 106% of the population.
Although Internet penetration is greater in Europe (76% of the population has Internet access), the use of social networks (49%) and their use on cellphones (40%) is lower. This suggests that adherence to the online channel does not go in pace with Internet access, but points to other cultural and business variables. This can be seen much more clearly if we compare the data for Asia, where there is a much lower Internet penetration (46% Internet access), but whose figures for use of social media are near European levels: 36% for network use and 35% for use of social networks on cellphones.
United Arab Emirates (99%), Iceland (98%), Norway and Luxembourg (97%) and Denmark (96%) have the highest rate of Internet penetration. Other countries at the top of the ranking are Japan (93%), United Kingdom (92%), Canada (91%) and United States (90%). Spain is a little behind, with 82% penetration. With regard to the time spent on the Internet, Asia and Latin America are the most assiduous: Philippines, Brazil, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico also at the top of the table. These countries spend most time on the Internet via their cellphones, with around 4 hours a day. The average time in Spain is much lower, at one and a half hours a day, although it has the highest penetration of cellphones: 82% of Spaniards have a cellphone. 66% of the world population have a cellphone, and some have more than one.
The figures for eCommerce are still trailing those for Internet penetration and use of mobile devices and social networks. 1.6 billion people worldwide shop online, representing 22% of the global population. In 2016 this channel accounted for sales of 1.9 billion dollars. The countries that most use this form of commerce are the United Kingdom (76% of the population), South Korea (72%), Germany (72%), Japan (68%) and the United States (67%). In Spain it is now used by around 58% of the population.
Differences can be observed between countries in the ranking of purchases made via cellphones. The first are: South Korea (55% of the population bought something via their cellphone in 2016), Arab Emirates (47%), Thailand (41%), China and Singapore (40%). In Spain 30% of the population bought something via their cellphone in 2016. The fastest-growing countries in this regard are Indonesia (155%), Japan (101%) and the Philippines (85%). Spain comes toward the bottom of the ranking with growth of 15%. The biggest spenders are the United Kingdom (2,033 dollars), United States, Canada, and Germany. Spain spends an average of 687 dollars a year.
Against this backdrop of high penetration rates, companies should be asking questions not only about Internet use, different devices or preferred delivery methods; they need to go one step further and carefully analyze their users' consumption habits. The idea is to adapt the offer to consumption habits on the devices, looking at issues such as where they use their cellphones (noisy or quiet places, in transit, at home), average browsing time, or whether consumers make decisions on their own or after consulting several opinions.
Investment in online marketing is now becoming essential. In the words of We are Social, we need to consider the mobile world the same way we do electricity –as a basic need available to everybody and for the benefit of all.