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Italy E-Commerce and Electronic Signature

Italian custom information, import regulations, shipping documents requirements, and free trade zones/warehouses. Share your experiences in trading with Italy importers.

Italy E-Commerce and Electronic Signature

Postby bridgat » Mon Nov 17, 2008 12:31 am

Electronic Commerce

Since 1999, after a lethargic start, Internet usage in Italy has experienced explosive growth. The number of business and home Internet users is booming: Internet users were estimated at over 13 million at the end of 2000, almost 19 million in July of 2001, and this number is expected to reach 29 million by 2003.

Electronic commerce applications have taken off and, although they are still in their early stages, all trade sources concur that they will experience exceptional growth in the next two years. The total market value for e-commerce transactions in Italy was estimated at approximately 1 billion euro in 2000 and at 1.8 billion euro in the year 2001. It is projected to register revenues of close to 50 billion euro by 2003. According to the market research company IDC, Web buyers are projected to increase to 9.8 million in 2003.

The main factors fueling the development of e-commerce in Italy are expected to be: 1) improved internet access infrastructure; 2) recognition of e-commerce as a means to provide better support to customers and suppliers; 3) improved consumer protection legislation; 4) Italian legislation which recognizes the legal validity of digital signatures and digital contracts; 5) agreements between Italian banks and credit card operators to introduce Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol; 6) new Italian government plans for accelerating the development of a new economy culture, ICT acceptance and e-commerce adoption; 7) initiatives of trade associations, major organizations and local governments to foster innovation and to promote e-commerce, especially among small- and medium-sized enterprises; 8) a mobile phone diffusion among the highest in the world, which will enable both the business and consumer segments to take advantage of new telecom technologies for e-commerce transactions (It is estimated that at the end of 2000 there were more than 51 million mobile phone lines activated, and over 35 million cellular phone users) .

The growing complexity of network technologies and the need for specialized skills to implement e-business strategies is leading large and medium-sized Italian businesses to outsource services to supplement their in-house capabilities. It is expected that American e-commerce integrators and service providers will play a key role in providing the strategy, marketing, design, and technical services associated with developing an e-business culture and with building advanced e-commerce sites.

B2B & Virtual Marketplaces –– According to recent surveys, over 1.5 million Italian businesses were connected to the Internet at the end of the year 2001 -- out of a total of approximately 3.4 million -- and 300,000 of them had a web site. Connected companies are expected become the norm by the year 2003.

Over 90 percent of Italian companies with more than 100 employees are connected to the Internet, while this rate falls to 70 percent for SMEs with between 10 and 100 employees. Many small enterprises are less inclined to innovate and have yet to invest in the Internet.

The Italian Government has recently approved an Action Plan to accelerate the diffusion of the New Information and Communication Technology (NICT) in the Italian economy. $650 million was allocated for the year 2000 to promote NICT in private companies and schools, and over $165 million was allocated to promote electronic commerce and new technologies in the textile, apparel, and shoe-making sectors. Trade associations, major organizations and local governments are also actively promoting initiatives to foster innovation and to promote e-commerce among SMEs by offering them hosting solutions for both B2B and B2C e-commerce applications (malls, virtual marketplaces, portals, etc.).

Many Italian companies with a web site still utilize it only to create brand awareness, offer product information, and generate leads, but this is rapidly changing. The evolution of organizational business models and strategies has created the need for increased interaction with suppliers and customers. A growing number of large and medium sized companies are investing heavily in Intranet/Extranet infrastructure and are implementing web sales and purchasing applications to meet these needs.

B2B e-commerce transactions have steadily augmented and are expected to reach $ 38.5 billion in 2003, with their relative weight growing constantly and producing a dramatic impact on the Italian economy, similar to what is happening in other countries. The most active players focusing on the implementation of B2B solutions are the telecommunications sector, the financial sector and the manufacturing sector.

Virtually all major Italian industrial groups are organizing for e-procurement, and it is predicted that in three years time at least half of all company purchases will be via e-procurement.

B2C Projects and Prospects –– In the consumer segment, Internet subscriptions reached an estimated 4.5 million in the year 2000. Sales of PCs for home use are expanding and approximately 32.5 percent of Italian households now have one. The relatively low diffusion of personal computers has represented one of the major obstacles to the development of the Internet consumer market and of business-to-consumer e-commerce transactions. High telephone tariffs and cultural factors have also hindered development of this market segment. Free Internet access, combined with new Italian Government investments to foster ICT and have all Italian schools connected to the Internet by 2001, the increasing availability of inexpensive personal computers and set-top-boxes, and the decreasing costs of Internet-related telephone calls are acting as strong driving forces for the development of the sector. Consider (1) Free Internet access; (2) new Italian Government investments to foster ICT and have all Italian schools connected to the Internet by 2001; (3) the increasing availability of inexpensive personal computers and set-top-boxes; and (4) the decreasing costs of Internet-related telephone calls. More importantly, as mobile phone diffusion in Italy is among the highest in the world, the Internet consumer market may be driven by the availability of web-enabled, new-generation mobile phones.

Business-to-consumer transactions via the Internet have been marginal in Italy, but are forecasted to grow at a very high rate in the next two years. It is estimated that B2C transactions increased from approximately 3.5 billion euro in 2000 to 8.2 billion euro in 2001. They are expected to reach 18 billion by 2003.

The most promising sectors for B2C in Italy are computers and software, publishing, Internet music and videos, and bookings for entertainment events, vacation and travel. The media and publishing sector is increasing IT outlays to develop B2C solutions.

Financial Services –– Banks are investing considerable resources in e-commerce applications both to sell their own home and corporate banking services, and to support the e-business strategies of their clients by developing virtual malls and portals and by supporting secure transactions. On-line banking experienced substantial growth in 2001. The number of clients utilizing on-line banking services has grown from 1.5 million in the year 2000, to 2.5 million in 2001. Following this positive growth, the on-line trading sector registered a 60 percent growth in trading volume, complimented by a 20 percent increase in total assets . The possibility of accessing financial markets through new generation cellular phones may contribute to the development of this market, and demand for specially developed smart cards should increase.

E-government –– An important e-government action plan, which calls for an investment of $1.3 billion, was approved by the Italian government within the framework of the European Union’’s E-Europe program. It aims to offer more efficient, more integrated, and higher quality public services, as well as Internet access to information and services for all citizens. Among the actions being taken are the creation of a nation-wide extranet, intended to connect and integrate all central and local government networks; the creation of specific portals for accessing different government services; issuance of one million electronic ID cards/smart cards to allow easier access to public services; adoption of e-procurement at the central and local government levels; and countrywide promotion and use of digital signatures.

Interesting Internet sites: (in Italian) (for Italian legislation on electronic commerce in English) (legal aspects of e-commerce in 33 countries)

Major Italian Search Engines: (for a complete list) (Italian version of AltaVista) (Italian version of Excite) (Italian version of Yahoo)

Electronic Signatures

Italy has taken a firm stand against bureaucracy by assigning legal strength to digital signatures, which means that an electronic document can be legally binding without the need for a paper counterpart. The Italian Prime Minister signed the decree making digital signatures legally binding last February, and today the first practical documentation and software updates have been released to public offices throughout Italy. This move is expected to open up a whole new market for software applications. All of Italy's government institutions and regional offices have to upgrade their systems so they can handle digital signatures, and there is a huge potential for new types of applications for processing digitally-signed documents.

Regulations which govern electronic signatures (Presidential Decree 513) prohibit certifying authorities from holding private keys. Encryption or encryption products used for electronic signatures are not otherwise restricted and are not subject to authorizations.

Conversely, the move could have an adverse affect on sales of paper-based products such as scanners, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software and the like. The full text of the decree is available on the Web site of the Authority for Computer Science at Full integration of digital signatures into existing systems in Italy is estimated to take from three to five years.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade operates a website ( which includes detailed information on license requirements and instructions.
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