Rule Britannia…Online, Anyway

The UK was late to the online party. The way that the monopolistic phone system worked meant that back when dial-up was king it was simply too expensive to get online for many people. I clearly remember a decade or so ago being quite shocked to see 800 numbers in commercials and on billboards rather than the WWW addresses I had grow so used to seeing in American equivalents. Over more recent years Blighty has caught up with a vengeance, the average Brit seems to spend pretty much all the time they possibly can immersed in their mobile phone. Even given the Brits online addiction I was still a bit surprised to read recently that according to Ofcom (which is the relevant QANGO) Brits spend more online than anyone else….in the world.

Brits on average spend a shocking 48.5 hours a month online and spend over $1,600 per year doing online shopping. The 48 hrs per month number seems high but much of that is spent watching TV on mobile devices 46% of respondents said they did that on a regular basis. The “Telly” is a national obsession in the UK. They still have relatively few channels to choose from (most households have less than 6) and half of those will be BBC and commercial free….but the quality of the programming is spectacularly good and many Brits have long commutes typically on public transportation which means that a lot of TV is watched on trains and buses….it’s a readily observed phenomena.

The online shopping number is high, but seen in the context of the British shopping scene it’s not as surprising. Most Brits live in suburbs of large cities on in smaller more rural locations. Although there is great shopping in most big city centers many suburban or rural locations are poorly served and once you get past the enormous numbers of pubs, mortgage companies, thrift shops,banks,fast food outlets, beggars and shoe shops which seem to make up most of Main-street UK the actual shopping choices can be pretty lame. Actually it’s worse than lame.

Most British main street shopping areas (“High Streets” in UK speak) weren’t planned shopping areas; rather they started out as the center of a small town which eventually merged into a large city. Outsiders make the mistake of thinking of cites like London as one entity when in fact they are a really a large number of what used to be independent smaller towns which have sprawled into each other. The shopping experience is typically awful. Car access is limited or none (I defy you to drive through Oxford without entertaining thoughts of suicide). What limited parking they do have is typically expensive and patrolled by psychotic parking meter zombies. Shopping isn’t fun.  In contrast browsing online and getting stuff delivered is a much more relaxing experience. Add to that the British love of a bargain it’s not surprising they have take to online shopping so wholeheartedly. It’s good to see that we still lead the world at something.

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