Understanding Britain’s internet choices and habits

How Britain goes online, what it does online, and practical tips to help businesses better cater to its people.
14 August 2018

The UK is going digital, but what are some of its key choices and habits? Source: Shutterstock

When you think of the UK, you think of an advanced country with high-quality access to the internet. However, in order to better serve the market, businesses need to understand more about their (digital) choices and habits.

Only when you understand your target audience better will you be able to create exciting products and solutions to support them, and unique campaigns to attract them.

Say, for example, if you know that the people who buy from you have a preference for eco-friendly materials or favor better quality over lower prices, you’d design and manufacture differently, wouldn’t you?

The Office for National Statistics just issued an annual bulletin on ‘Internet access – households and individuals, Great Britain: 2018’ outlining how Britain goes online and what it does online. Here’s what it reveals.

How does Britain go online?

In 2018, of all households in Great Britain, 90 percent had access to the internet. This has started to level off over the last few years, rising by only 1 percentage point since 2016.

Fixed broadband has continued to be the most popular type of household internet connection since 2015, with 98 percent of households with internet access using such a connection in 2018.

Households with one adult aged 65 years and over had the lowest proportion of internet access, at 59 percent in 2018.

However, these households had the largest growth in internet access, up 23 percentage points since 2012, compared with growth of 10 percentage points in all households.

Further, since 2006, the percentage of adults who use the internet daily has grown from 35 percent, to 86 percent in 2018, while weekly use has declined, from 16 percent in 2006 to 4 percent in 2018.

Furthermore, the proportion of those who had not used the internet in the last three months has fallen from 40 percent in 2006, to 9 percent in 2018.

In 2018, among all adults, 78 percent used mobile phones or smartphones to access the internet. These were the most popular devices across most age groups, apart from those aged 65 years and over, who reported a tablet computer as the most popular device used to access the internet, at 42 percent.

However, when accessing the internet “on the go”, 28 percent of adults aged 65 years and over reported using a mobile phone or smartphone, compared with 20 percent who used a tablet in the same age group.

What does Britain do online?

In 2018, the most popular internet activity was sending and receiving emails, performed by 84 percent of adults.

Finding information about goods or services was the second most popular activity at 77 percent, up from 71 percent in 2017.

There has been a large growth in the proportion of adults who watched videos online. Since 2016, the proportion of adults who watched videos on demand from commercial services (for example, Netflix) has risen by 17 percentage points, from 29 percent to 46 percent.

Similarly, the proportion of adults who watched videos on YouTube or similar increased by 15 percentage points, from 47 percent in 2016 to 62 percent in 2018.

There were some differences in the activities that men and women carried out over the internet, with a higher percentage of women using it for social networking (69 percent), compared with men (60 percent).

Furthermore, 59 percent of women looked for health-related information online, compared with 50 percent of men.

However, the proportion of men who watched videos on YouTube or similar was 13 percentage points higher than women, at 69 percent and 56 percent respectively.

Men also played or downloaded games more than women, with 36 percent of men and 26 percent of women doing so in 2018.

As the closure of high street banks continues to rise, internet banking has also shown yearly growth over the past decade. This activity has shown the largest percentage point increase, rising from 35 percent in 2008, to 69 percent in 2018. This is closely followed by looking for health-related information, which has shown a rise of 30 percentage points since 2008.

In 2018, among all adults, 78% bought goods or services online in the last 12 months, up 1 percentage point since 2017 and 25 percentage points since 2008.

A higher proportion of younger adults were online shoppers compared with older adults, with 95 percent of those aged 16 to 24 years and 96 percent of those aged 25 to 34 years carrying out this activity in 2018.

This contrasts with adults aged 65 years and over who showed the lowest proportion of online shopping at 48 percent.

However, this age group has shown the largest increase in this activity, rising threefold since 2008, from 16 percent to 48 percent in 2018.

The age group with the smallest growth in online shopping was those aged 35 to 44 years, up 21 percentage points, to 89 percent in 2018.

What businesses can do better in Britain

Based on these insights, here are some ideas to help businesses better tune their marketing and innovation capabilities for Britain.

# 1 | Make mobile-first a priority:

Mobile, whether you consider the modern or previous generations, are becoming increasingly important. It’s one of the most important ways people access the internet, and it usually reaches them at a time they can be engaged with sans interruptions (like during the commute to work or during their workout). Design for mobile first to make sure you’re always doing your best to impress your audience.

# 2 | Be responsive by design:

People in the UK might access your website, products, and solutions from any devices. A smartphone has just as good an internet connection as a desktop computer. As a result, make sure your offerings are ‘responsive’ by design and can adapt to the best resolution by detecting the device type.

# 3 | Support mobile payments:

Residents in the UK are getting increasingly comfortable with using digital banking solutions. If you’re a business that can sell online, make sure you offer the options to help them make payments to you via the internet – doing so will not only boost your image in their eyes but also make sure they see you as a progressive company.

# 4 | Don’t ignore e-commerce:

People are getting used to e-commerce and making purchases online. Once they get comfortable, whether they’re on a platform they recognize, or on a site they like, selling to them online will be easier. Craft your marketing strategies and your digital infrastructure keeping this in mind.

# 5 | Create engaging video content:

There’s a growing preference for videos. Businesses must, therefore, consider using short, descriptive video films to explain their product and proposition. Existing videos can also be brought back, checked that they’re up to date, and re-used – specifically targeting certain demographics in Britain.