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Changing behaviour: how UK online shoppers have changed since 2008

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Most UK households now have internet access, with 73% accessing it via a mobile phone in 2017, and 77% buying goods or services online, according to official figures. While the proportion of people buying online has remained constant since last year, there have been big underlying changes in the way we shop since 2008.

The Office for National Statistics’ Internet access – households and individuals: 2017 reports a growing appetite for online retail, with 77% buying goods or services online in the last 12 months. That’s the same figure as last year, but represents a growth of 24 percentage points since 2008. Underlying that figure is a change in the demographic of online shoppers. Some 75% of adults aged between 55 and 64 now shops online – a rise of 30 percentage points since 2008. The age group with the smallest rise in online shopping was among those between 25 and 34: 89% now shop online, 17 percentage points more than in 2008. That seems to represent a change in the older people buying online, with younger people having previously been more likely to buy over the internet. Indeed, younger adults buy more often, with 26% shopping over the internet 11 or more times in the past three months, contrasting with 7% of adults aged 65 and over. Some 24% of 25 to 34-year-olds bought online between six and 10 times, compared to 8% of those aged 65 and older. And while 78% of shoppers had used the internet ‘on the go’, 98% of those aged 16 or 24 had done so, contrasting with 39% of those aged 65 and older.

In 2017, clothing and sports goods were the most popular online buys, bought by 56% of adults. Half of adults (50%) bought household goods such as furniture and toys online, while 44% bought holiday accommodation.

In 2017, 93% of those who bought online bought from sellers in the UK, while 31% had bought from sellers in other EU countries and 31% from the rest of the world. While buying from UK online retailers has remained relatively stable, growing by six percentage points since 2008, those buying from other EU sellers has grown by 19 percentage points from 12% in 2008 to 31% in 2017.

Almost a third of adults (27%) bought physical goods from online sellers outside the UK in 2017, with 37% of those aged 25 to 34 years doing so, and 12% of those aged 65 and older.

Asked whether they’d had a problem buying online, 44% said they had not. The most common problems were slower than expected delivery, experienced by 29% of adults who bought online in the last year and technical website failures during ordering and payment (27%). Asked about their use of the sharing economy, 28% of adults said they had used intermediary websites or apps to arrange accommodation, while 22% had arranged transport services. The most likely age group to use these were those aged between 25 and 44.

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