Trends in E-commerce: How the UK E-Commerce sector is expanding

By Charlie Britten
04 Mar 2020

The UK E-Commerce sector has been growing faster than most, indicating just how strong the potential is in the marketplace.

E-Commerce was perhaps one of the most inevitable aspects of the coming of the internet. Just as the development of postal services long ago enabled mail order and the telephone created the call centre, so the capacity to communicate digitally inevitably meant a lot of shopping would go online as well.

Of course, the fact that a service is available does not always mean people will use it. In some instances, people will prefer to visit a store in person. This may be a social thing, a matter of habit, or due to practical considerations - such as the need to try on clothing or footwear before making a purchase.

However, the practicality of E-Commerce gives it a strong appeal and the UK is one of the most substantially developed markets.

  •          According to Hootsuite's 2018 report, the value of the E-Commerce market has only been surpassed by those of the US and China, with their much larger populations.
  •          Around 45 million Britons purchase something online every year
  •          The most popular goods in E-Commerce are in the fashion / beauty and electrical goods sectors, both accounting for just over a quarter of the market. Tourism is also a large part of it, as is the sporting goods sector. 

Why is the UK E-Commerce market so strong?

There may be several factors influencing the popularity of E-Commerce in the UK:

  •          The very high and growing level of internet usage in the UK, particularly amongst young people, meaning they have easy access to such facilities
  •          The convenience for those who have limited spare time
  •          A willingness to spend electronically, with cash now making up a minority of payments. This contrasts with even some modern societies where cash is still king, such as Germany
  •          Climate - it can provide a chance to avoid taking a trip to the shops on a cold, wet day

A further factor that may be invoked is convenience, borne partly of a lack of access to good shops on high streets.

This is a more complicated picture; while the decline of high streets and the sight of boarded up shopfronts is often the consequence of major edge-of town shopping developments, it can also be argued that E-Commerce has contributed further to this trend. Nonetheless, that can in itself create a situation where even those who would rather visit a store in person may now opt to shop online instead of taking a longer trip to the nearest available store.  

With all these factors helping the growth of E-Commerce, the opportunities are very clear.

Why do social media and mobile matter?

From a digital marketing perspective, what is also notable is the potential social media and mobile can play in any campaign.

  •          The Hootsuite report indicated a total of 44 million social media users in the UK, meaning the potential audience that can be reached through social media marketing is very high
  •          Smartphone use was 77%, which is a clear signal that any online content should be mobile-friendly
  •          The 2018 survey showed 38% of web traffic was received by mobiles, a 10% rise year-on-year. Since then, it has risen further; a survey in late 2018 by Ukom indicated 75% of online time in the UK was accounted for by mobile devices.

What threats exist to E-Commerce growth?

The above trends all appear to offer great promise for the E-Commerce sector. The fast growth of UK internet use and the convenience of being able to order goods from smartphones at any time and in any place are key factors in the growth of the sector.  

However, this does create a couple of notes of caution:

  •          With most of the UK population now online, the scope for further growth is limited; saturation point is not far away
  •          The same is true of smartphone use
  •          This means firms will need to market themselves increasingly well to enjoy growth once the overall market is no longer growing fast; at that point firms will grow mainly through gaining better market share.

A further concern to bear in mind is cyber security. The hear of being hacked and defrauded will put some people off and major incidents can shake public confidence in the systems they are using. So far, nothing has happened on such a scale as to stop the rise of E-Commerce, but firms do need to make sure they stay safe, not least because of the risk of reputational damage.

How can BeUniqueness help?

At Beuniqueness, we know nobody can rest on their laurels. If you want to give your E-Commerce firm the edge in digital marketing, we can help you do just that, ensuring you can capitalise on all avenues to growth.