UK online spending up 48%, hits £113bn as nation puts curtains in its sheds, empties supermarket shelves

Regulator airs country's muddy laundry - including fact it rarely unplugs


The UK is a nation of online shoppers who – when not spending a whopping £113bn over the past 12 months – spent more time online than any other grown-ups across Europe last year.

This is according to Ofcom's latest online snapshot of the nation's e-habits, Online Nation 2021, which was published today. The UK’s communications regulator said it delivered "a snapshot of an unprecedented year, when communication, entertainment, culture, retail, work and education moved more online."

A few pick 'n' mix treats from the findings revealed:

  • UK online shopping sales rose by half (+48 per cent) to nearly £113bn in 2020 fuelled by massive spikes in spending on food, drink and home improvement
  • UK adults spent more than three-and-a-half hours (217 minutes) online each day in 2020 – more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain
  • TikTok really roped in British users during the pandemic – it ballooned from 3 million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021

The kids are online

Researchers also found that nine in 10 children – aged eight to 15 – said social media “helped them feel closer to friends during the pandemic”, while two-thirds of boys and three-quarters of girls said that social media “can cause worries about body image.”

More than half of 12- to 15-year-olds reported having a negative experience online in 2020.

In a statement Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director of Strategy and Research, described 2020 as an “unprecedented year” during which time “we’ve seen a real acceleration in our migration to online services.”

He added: “This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics and behaviour, as we prepare to take on new responsibilities for regulating online safety.”

No, they haven't forgotten about regulation plans

Last December, the government confirmed it had appointed Ofcom as the regulator for online harms in the UK as part of a new approach to protect children and vulnerable people online.

Speaking at the time, Ofcom chief exec Dame Melanie Dawes explained that while being online brings huge benefits, four in five people have "concerns" about it.

“That shows the need for sensible, balanced rules that protect users from serious harm, but also recognises the great things about online, including free expression," she said.

Last month, the government published its draft Online Safety Bill to establish a “new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online.”

Critics say such policing would be tricky to enforce and would hurt internet startups, who don't have the Facebook and YouTube money needed to employ thousands of content moderators.

The government said the legislation includes measures to "uphold democratic debate online" while helping to safeguard young people, clamp down on racist abuse, and protect people from online scams. ®

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