Why are British consumers so eager to shop online?

There's a global/local revolution taking place in ecommerce, according to Alessandro Coppo, VP and general manager of eBay Classifieds Group, the company behind uber-popular classifieds site Gumtree.

by Alessandro Coppo
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Britain's appetite for internet shopping is huge and, it would seem, insatiable. According to Boston Consulting Group’s latest research report, the internet is now accountable for 8.3% of the UK economy, a larger share than those held by any of the other major G20 countries. The internet has profoundly transformed modern life and revolutionised shopping in such a way that the marketplace is forever changed.

British shoppers now make 13.5% of their purchases online, higher than 7.1% in Germany, 5% in the US and 6.6% in the world’s most connected nation, South Korea. So, why are British consumers so eager to shop online?

One of the key enablers is access. In the UK, broadband penetration, mobile device usage and public wi-fi connectivity are ubiquitous. Each year, consumers are spending more and more time online. Moreover, the advantages of online versus regular shopping are undeniable - the most fundamental being convenience. Online shopping can be done at home at any hour of the day or night without having to queue or drive.

Another point in favour of e-commerce is that there are vast resources for product and price comparisons, broadening opportunities for consumers, so they feel reassured that they are getting the best deal available. Online retailers can provide excellent value for money because they don’t have to pay the traditional fixed expenses, from rents and employee salaries to certain taxes.

Another big trend, fuelled by the recession, is consumer-to-consumer ecommerce. Cash-strapped consumers are buying and selling goods online with other consumers to make or save a bit of extra money. Our own research at eBay Classifieds shows that 81% of people across the world are more likely to sell something to another consumer than throw it away.

This consumer-to-consumer e-commerce also has a local flavour. You can find a new sofa or camera locally without having to hunt all over town for it. This not just true of traditional goods but of services as well. Offline and online commerce – once two distinct worlds - are now blurring.

However, the high street is not dead – yet. It just has to make some changes to keep up with the constantly shifting world around it. Multi-channel retailing is still a big sell. Buy online, and pick up in store: useful for big ticket items that don't fit through your letterbox, for example. But it won't be easy, and many big brands are already falling by the wayside.

One thing's for sure: it's going to take one hell of a play to shake the consumer's love affair with online shopping.

Alessandro Coppo is VP and general manager of eBay Classifieds Group

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