United Kingdom - Country Commercial Guide

Discusses distribution network from how products enter to final destination, including reliability of distribution systems, distribution centers, ports, etc.

Last published date: 2021-09-22

Assessment of Current Buyer Behavior in Market

Internet shopping is more popular in the UK than in any other major country.  Consumer eCommerce now accounts for over 36%  of the total retail market in the UK (up from 20% in 2019) with over $3 billion spent weekly in the UK internet retail market. This boost has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The key digital figures for the UK in 2021 indicate:

  • Population: 68.05M
  • Mobile phone connections: 67.61M
  • Internet users: 65.32M
  • Active social media users: 53M

The growth of online retailing is driving a relentless pursuit of value for money. People continue to look online for the best deals and prices and this is driving the proportion of money being spent online, which has increased for the second year in a row.  The internet is now the natural place for shoppers to look for fashion, health and beauty, home and garden, consumer electronics and travel services.  One key trend is to physically look at or try a product in-store and then go home to buy it at a better price online or buy it via their smartphone or tablet.  Click and collect is also becoming much more popular.

With the continuing rise of social networking and mobile internet access, social media marketing is a key channel in which firms are most likely to be boosting their investment in e-commerce in the next couple of years. The strength of online sales contrasts with the gloom in bricks-and-mortar retailing, with physical stores falling into administration or bankruptcy.  The top eCommerce sites in the UK are: 

  1. Amazon - eCommerce, estimated monthly traffic: 437 Million visits
  2. ebay - eCommerce, estimated monthly traffic: 328 Million visits
  3. Argos - most categories excl. groceries, estimated monthly traffic: 60.5 Million visits
  4. Tesco - groceries, homeware, clothing, estimated monthly traffic: 39.3 Million visits  
  5. Next - clothing, estimated monthly traffic: 37.1 Million visits
  6. Asda - groceries, homeware, clothing, estimated monthly traffic: 33.7 Million visits
  7. Marks & Spencer - groceries, homeware, clothing, estimated monthly traffic: 32.6 Million visits
  8. B&Q – DIY and home improvement, estimated monthly traffic: 31.8 Million visits
  9. Screwfix - tools and accessories, estimated monthly traffic: 31.5 Million visits
  10. Currys - electricals, estimated monthly traffic: 31.4 Million visits

Almost all UK-based online businesses allow customers to use credit or debit cards. Visa and MasterCard are almost universally accepted, while American Express, Diners Club and JCB, less so.  Many websites use Pay Pal or other similar services.  UK consumers are becoming much more aware of the issue of online identity theft and will generally only conduct financial transactions on secure websites. 

Ecommerce purchases made via smartphone have overtaken those made via tablets with online sales made via smartphone representing over 60% of all ecommerce sales. 

Local eCommerce Sales Rules & Regulations

The main rules covering sales on the Internet can be found on the UK’s eCommerce Directive and VAT rules guidance for Digital Services. 

The UK legal system provides a high level of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.  Enforcement mechanisms are comparable to those available in the United States.  The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official UK government body responsible for intellectual property rights including patents, designs, trademarks and copyright. 

Local eCommerce Business Service Provider Ecosystem

There are many UK companies that provide eCommerce services to create and run platforms.  The sector is well-served by such firms given that the UK is a world leader in eCommerce. 

The U.S. Commercial Service Business Service Provider (BSP) directory is designed to help U.S. companies identify professional service providers to assist them in the assessment, completion, and/or financing of an export transaction.

In-country Events

eCommerc Expo

Internet Retailing Expo

UK eCommerce Awards