Hong Kong's e-commerce market continues to underperform even though the city boasts one of the world's most-developed Internet infrastructures, according to a study. Management and technology consultancy Accenture found consumers and businesses in Hong Kong remained slow to carry out transactions online. Accenture partner Goh Lin Piao said: 'According to our findings, Internet access for Hong Kong citizens and broadband penetration are among the highest in the world. However, online business transactions have not taken off, largely due to a lack of business incentives and sites that support transactions.' The consultancy in November surveyed about 4,000 Internet users for the government-backed e-commerce adoption campaign and its 'Try It Online' initiative. It analysed a variety of Web sites, including those offering financial services, entertainment, auctions, travel and search engines. 'Since businesses and the Government have been working for several years to implement e-commerce, we felt the time was right to evaluate the progress,' Mr Goh said. 'The findings suggest that actual e-commerce purchases or transactions, while showing some signs of growth, have remained moderate in Hong Kong.' He said few local Web sites supported commercial transactions and most of those surveyed were filled with 'brochureware', or corporate information. Of the items bought online, books and souvenirs were the most popular, making up 43.7 per cent. Banking and brokerage transactions followed at 21.8 per cent and household products at 10.3 per cent. Security, at 67.5 per cent, remained the leading user concern. Privacy was next, at 21 per cent. Although more than 40 per cent of Hong Kong people use the Internet and 34 per cent of households have online access, most are wary of conducting online transactions because of a perceived lack of value offered by the sites. The study suggested some of the best opportunities for e-commerce in Hong Kong might be in developing highly targeted online services. The Government has made use of its knowledge that 80 per cent of the local Internet users are aged between 15 and 34 to time the launch of its online services, such as online registration for marriage licences. Mr Goh said one Accenture retail client recently saw its fledgling e-commerce business lift because of high demand for a bird's nest food product it offered at a discount online. 'There is value perceived when it comes to known commodities,' he said. The study also found businesses were slow to conduct commercial transactions online due to a lack of incentives. Mr Goh said it was more cost-effective for businesses to offer customers Web-based self-service than through a company agent. In a recent study of 170 United States firms, Accenture found the average cost of customer interaction involving a representative went from US$311.20 to US$3,112, compared with an average of 78 US cents to US$3.11 for Web-based self-service. Mr Goh said: 'The situation in Hong Kong presents tremendous opportunities for businesses . . . to develop attractive and profitable e-commerce activities.' Accenture said Hong Kong had key e-commerce enablers such as high Internet access, personal computer penetration rates and a growing number of broadband connections. The study said more experienced Internet users were more likely to participate in e-commerce activities. Cindy Cheng, organising committee head of the e-commerce adoption campaign, said: 'The Hong Kong e-commerce adoption campaign has made an effort to put an emphasis on sustainable, practical and measurable activities that promote the use of e-commerce. Following this study, we will continue to focus on promoting e-commerce adoption in those areas which have the highest potential for growth, such as online service delivery.' The campaign was launched last year to improve Hong Kong's competitiveness in Asia. In an earlier study, Accenture found the Hong Kong Government was moving towards the adoption of customer relationship management. Although government executives are not normally driven by goals such as customer retention and profit per customer, the survey found these executives were now seeing these commercially developed principles as critical to their agencies.