More is bought and sold online in the UK than in any other nation in Europe. What’s the secret to the UK’s e-commerce success story? Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the history of online sales in the UK. We’ll examine the key businesses at the forefront of the digital sales charge and we’ll also look at what the future may hold.
In preparing this series, we’ve relied upon a mixture of market research, established datasets and interviews from key figures within a variety of industries. We look forward to offering a real insight into e-commerce today.
Quantifying e-commerce growth
We may have an understanding that online sales have been increasing year-on-year, but the data paints an interesting picture of what has been going on. In 2008, the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) produced a set of statistics on UK e-commerce sales. At the time, they estimated that UK businesses had made approximately £334 billion of sales that year.
By 2014, the sales figures had risen sharply. The ONS suggested that an impressive £592 billion of sales had been made online in the UK. In the space of just 6 years, e-commerce had grown at a rate of some 77%.
A report in the Guardian (from July 2008) indicated that British shoppers were spending 17p out of every £1 online. Impressive sales figures from the likes of ASOS, Ocado, Mothercare, Primark and Harrods were noted within the report, while mention was also made of the fact that mid-market stores were finding it more difficult to attract customers.
But this period from 2008 to the present day includes a number of years when the UK economy has been in a difficult position. Has that actually held back e-commerce growth? Certainly, back in 2008, there were already suggestions that the credit crunch was causing problems for some online retailers.
By February 2009, however, the overall picture was clear: the BBC were reporting that there had been a 13% increase in online sales, when compared to the same month of the previous year. The IMRG Capgemini Index of online sales indicated that there had been a 5,000% growth in e-commerce between 2000 and 2009. By comparison, high street sales had seen a growth of 21% during the same period. What was fast emerging was a success story that was catching mainstream media attention.
The poor economic conditions that continued to hold in 2011 didn’t appear to be restricting online sales growth, with IMRG reporting 18% growth in the first quarter of 2011.
The availability of mobile devices with impressive internet capabilities seems, if anything, to have added even more energy to the growth figures. In the next part of our series, we’ll discuss how online performance varies by sector.