Of the world's 6.45 billion population (as estimated by the US Central Intelligence Agency, July 2005), no fewer than 627 million have shopped at least once on the worldwide web.

This eyebrow-arching figure was released Wednesday by ACNielsen Europe, citing a survey conducted in May via an online poll of 21,100 respondents in thirty-eight markets across Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America and South Africa. They were asked how often they shopped online, their purchasing preferences and the payment method used.

Tying for first place as the globe's most dedicated online shoppers are the Germans, their Austrian neighbours and Britons - with over 95% of internet-users making purchases via the web.

Paradoxically the United States, the world's largest consumer economy, lags in eleventh place in the rankings. Explains ACN's Bhawani Singh, managing director of European consumer research: "Mall culture in the United States may explain why online shopping has not reached European levels. The retailing environment in Europe makes it more difficult to purchase things."

In Asia, Nielsen found that high level internet penetration does not necessarily equate to online shopping frequency. In South Korea, which boasts one of the globe's highest internet penetrations, online shoppers made an average of just four purchases within the last month, alongside five to six purchases in Singapore, Taiwan and China.

Latin Americans trail the rest of the world with an average of only three purchases within the month.

Singh said that purchases of pornography were excluded from the study, despite its reputation as one of the web's most successful business sectors. It had been omitted on grounds that few respondents would answer honestly.

"We also think online consumers spend more time looking at pornography than buying it," Singh said. "The amount of money spent on books and DVDs is far, far bigger than anything else."

"You can see clear trends by age and by country," he continued. "Younger people buy more DVDs and video games than books, and the purchase of music online is shifting away from CDs towards downloads straight onto MP3 players."

"A small shop online can beat out a big High Street retailer by providing a similar or better shopping experience online," Singh opined. "This new breed of shoppers is armed with much more information than in the past."

Data sourced from International Herald Tribune Online; additional content by WARC staff