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Why are the British by far the world’s most enthusiastic online shoppers?

AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac
Delivering the e-commerce goods
By Newley Purnell
Great BritainPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Britons really love to shop online. In 2012 the average person in the UK spent an amazing £1,175 pounds ($1,922) shopping on the web, significantly more than in any other country, according to a new report (PDF) from the UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom.

That’s 35% higher than the second-ranked country, Australia ($1419) and 77% more than the US ($1084). About 73% of the UK’s online population buys goods online on at least a monthly basis, and 24% shop online at least weekly. This is all, no doubt, music to the ears of online retailers serving the UK as Christmas approaches.

So, what accounts for Britons’ fondness for e-commerce? In addition to lower prices and convenience, Ofcom points to the high degree of trust UK consumers place in web retailers. Shoppers in the UK are also confident that the goods they order will be successfully delivered. Consumers in Spain, Italy, and Australia were less optimistic.

“We have a long history of catalogue shopping in the UK,” James Thickett, Ofcom’s director of research and market development, told Sky News. “What this has done is that we trust people to deliver parcels, and we’re used to getting parcels delivered to our homes and we’re used to using credit cards. It’s part of our DNA.”

Other factors, meanwhile, could include increasing smartphone use; cheaper mobile phone and broadband service; and more advertisements online and in apps. There could be macroeconomic trends to consider, as well. Compared to euro zone countries, at least, the UK’s economy has been rebounding, meaning consumers may be more sanguine on their personal finances and more apt to shop on the web. 

Unaddressed in the report is another possible explanation: Perhaps the UK’s notoriously unpleasant weather simply discourages people from going outside to do their shopping.

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