The UK is a nation of online shoppers

14 Dec 2011

UK consumers are not only paying lower prices for their communications across the world but also use the internet more for their shopping than any other major countries, new research from Ofcom reveals.

UK consumers also watch more TV online, use their mobiles more to go online and play more games on their smartphones.

Ofcom’s sixth International Communications Market report into the global communications market shows that despite the economic downturn, global communications revenues grew by 3.4pc in 2010 compared with 2009, mainly driven by strong growth in the BRIC countries (Brazil, India, Russia and China).

The report found that eight in 10 UK internet users (79pc) said they had ordered goods or services online in 2010, higher than any other European country, with just 27pc of consumers in Italy claiming to have done so. UK internet users were also more likely to visit retail websites online than other countries, with nine in 10 (89pc) claiming to do so in 2011.

As well as more UK consumers shopping online, they also spent more time on retail sites – an average of 84 minutes in January 2011, compared with around 20 minutes for consumers in Poland and Italy.

Smartphone revolution

Smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 (from 24pc to 46pc) and take-up was higher in the UK than among the other European countries surveyed (France: 35pc, Germany: 32pc, Italy: 40pc and Spain: 45pc).

The number of people using their mobiles to go online was also higher in the UK with nearly half (46pc) of UK internet users using their phones to go online in October 2011. This was higher than in all the other countries surveyed.

UK consumers were also more likely to play games on their phones (34pc compared with 16pc in France).

A quarter (25pc) of UK mobile users accessed news content on their mobiles, significantly higher than in other European countries.  This could be partly due to higher smartphone take-up and UK newspaper websites having mobile-specific websites.

They were less likely, however, to use the internet to make phone calls than in other countries. Just less than a fifth (19pc) of UK broadband subscribers used services such as Skype to make internet phone calls, compared with 28pc in Italy and 26pc in France.

TV over the internet is catching on

The UK’s love of TV continues, with more than a quarter (27pc) of UK internet users saying they watched TV online every week, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2010, and higher than any of the other countries surveyed. The popularity of a wide variety of free-to-view catch-up TV services, such as BBC iPlayer, has helped to drive online TV viewing in the UK.

The UK also saw the largest growth in digital video recorder (DVR) take-up, with more than a third (36pc) of homes now owning a DVR (a 4 percentage point increase on 2009). Among the six countries surveyed, the UK is second only to the US, where 41pc of households own a DVR.

Overall, TV viewing in the UK increased by 7.6pc in 2010 compared with 2009, with the average person watching just more than four hours of TV per day (242 minutes).  This was the highest increase year-on-year among the countries surveyed, and 31 minutes more than the average of 211 minutes per person.

Social networking is a global phenomenon

More than three-quarters of consumers in the markets surveyed say they have visited a social networking site, with the majority saying they visit them on a daily basis. This is much higher among 18-24-year-olds, with eight in 10 (83pc) visiting on a daily basis.

Social networking sites are most popular in Italy, with 91pc ever having visited and a quarter visiting more than five times a day (24pc), while in the UK eight out of 10 (79pc) have ever visited with one in five visiting over five times a day.

UK consumers are more likely to access social networking sites on a mobile phone than other countries, with 43pc of those with social networking site profiles saying they do so compared to just 30pc in the US. However, UK social networkers say they have fewer friends online (168) than Americans (198) or Italians (216) – but more than the French (108) or Germans (137).

Consumers are also using social networking sites for breaking news, with one-third (35pc) of UK consumers saying they do this and nearly half of French (45pc) and Italians (47pc) agreeing. Breaking news is more popular among 18-24-year-olds in all countries.

UK consumers getting a better deal for their telecoms

Ofcom research into the prices consumers pay for their communications services has found that prices in the UK compare favourably to those available in other countries.

The analysis examined the prices of a typical ‘basket’ of communications services (fixed-line phone, mobile phone, broadband and pay TV) for five household types. It compared the prices available to consumers in the UK (in July 2011) with those in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US. Overall, the UK offered the lowest prices for all five baskets based on buying services individually and four of the five baskets when including multi-service ‘bundles’.

Overall, the price of mobile phone services in the UK were 36pc lower than in the next least expensive country (France) and were 10pc lower than a year previously. However, prices for low-use mobile phone services (such as pay as you go) in the UK increased between July 2010 and July 2011 (as they did in France, Germany and Italy). Fixed-line voice prices in the UK were also lower than in all other countries.

Looking at the prices for a typical family ‘basket’ of communications services consisting of a fixed-line phone with high use, four mobile phones with varying use, a fixed broadband connection and a basic pay TV subscription, the lowest price available to consumers in the UK was £114, second only to France (£79). Prices for this basket in the UK increased by 10pc between 2010 and 2011, largely due to increases in the prices of the low-use mobile phone services.

Superfast broadband rapidly becoming available

Overall availability of high-speed fixed-line broadband networks in the UK compares favourably to other European countries. By June 2011, 59pc of households had access to Virgin Media or BT’s superfast services. However, just 4pc of UK households subscribed to superfast services in June 2011, compared with 40pc in Japan and 10pc in the US, although higher than in Germany (3pc), Italy (1.5pc) and Spain (2.2pc).

New spectrum that will be used for superfast mobile broadband networks using LTE technology has been auctioned in a number of countries. Some countries, such as Sweden, have already launched networks, with headline speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. Services in the UK are expected to launch in 2013 following the 4G spectrum auction in the second half of 2012.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years