We love to shop online!

Twenty years on from its invention, the internet is transforming almost every aspect of our lives and shopping is no different. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year – the internet is always open! Not only is it very convenient to shop online, in many cases it's cheaper and with more variety.

The rise of internet shopping has affected many high street businesses, most notably music, book and technology retailers. The fact that to trade on the internet cuts down costs such as shop rents, utility bills and wages for lots of staff to 'serve' the customer means that internet businesses can undercut their high street competitors significantly on price.

An OFCOM study from the end of 2012 found that UK consumers spent an average of £1,083 each a year online. This is almost £250 more per person than the second placed country in the study, Australia. That is despite Britons being online for an average of 5 hours less than the average Australian each week! The study also found that in Britain we are among the most likely to make internet purchases from our mobile phones. More than 23% of mobile phone users have visited a retail website on it, the highest in Europe (Germany came second on 22.6%).

In the current economic climate people are very conscious of cost. If they can find an item cheaper online than in the shops then many buy online. Many people now go the shops to see something in person, or 'try it on' to get the size right, then leave the shop, go onto the phone and find out if it is cheaper online before making the decision to buy!

 

One example of this shift is the online fashion retailer ASOS. Over Christmas 2012 they showed an increase in sales of 41% showing that the fashion sector too is making great strides in online growth.

These trends show no sign of slowing anytime soon. It's not just the big online retail companies who are the winners. There are a number of smaller, independent retailers creating multi-million pound businesses from their living rooms and bedrooms!

All the signs are that the traditional high street shops will continue to struggle to compete with online retailers. Due to rising rents and slowing sales, having a shop in every high street (the traditional long term strategy of most big retailers) will no longer be an advantage. The most successful retailers will be the ones who cut down on overheads, utilise the parcel delivery network most efficiently and use data about their customers to their best advantage - something the biggest online retailers have been doing for a number of years now. A feature of online shopping is the ability for companies to collect electronic records of consumer shopping habits, all internet browsing and ordering can be tracked and stored to build a picture of what people really want to buy.

Is anything really free online?

As commerce has increased via the internet, web users are increasingly happy to buy and sell things online but at what price to our privacy does our online presence have? Are users aware that their online activity is being tracked and the data collected can sometimes be sold onto companies that want to get a better understanding of what people are interested in. What many don't realize is that we may be paying for what appear to be 'free' sites and services in hidden ways.

The major internet search web services have developed business models that have come to dominate today's web, offering lots of highly attractive, seemingly free web services, including search, maps and video. What many users don't realize is that they are in fact funded through a complex and highly profitable advertising system which trades on what we users look for.

Web advertising is evolving further to become more targeted and relevant to individual consumers. Recommendation software is also breaking down the barriers between commerce and consumer by marketing future purchases to us based on our previous choices or the choices of people who have bought similar items to those we are looking at.

On the surface, the web appears to have brought about a revolution in convenience. As companies start to build up databases on our online habits and preferences, the questions many are now asking is what this may mean for our notions of privacy and personal space in the 21st century.