CONSUMER SPENDING in Britain and France via the internet will more than triple the net's share of their respective retail markets by 2003, according to a report by multinational beancounters Ernst & Young. Based on data from 300 respondents in the UK, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and the US, the study ob-serves: 'As competition for customers intensifies, an intriguing battle is brewing. The fundamental question is: will online shoppers prefer an extension of the local chain or a US-based global brand?' Despite the need for established 'local' retailers to reduce their prices, E&Y believes they will prove 'formidable' online opponents because of brand recognition, established supply chains and expertise in local markets. In the UK, market share is predicted to reach around 24% of all retail sales within three years.

[Growth forecasts by interested parties should be taken with a fistful of salt. Back in 1995, Andersen Con-sulting, another beancounter with megabucks to gain by talking-up the market, predicted that the UK high street would lose 20% of its trade to the internet by 2000 [Debrief, 3-70]. According to the E&Y study, the actual figure is just 7%!]