ARTICLE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 17TH SEPTEMBER 2018
The online retail business is 11% of the total world wide retail sales and 16% of the UK’s. In both cases it seems to be growing at about 1% per annum but with signs of a slowdown in the more mature markets. There is no doubt that some businesses like bookshops have suffered grievously from the growth of online. But overall the long view suggests the retail industry has been going through a period of adjustment rather than a revolution.
By the time Britain’s first supermarket opened in 1948 it had already been shown in America that it was more cost effective for people to collect their goods than for goods to be delivered to the people. All that was needed were large shops where customers helped themselves and paid on their way out. Previously, the Victorian developments of postage and railways had seen home shopping grow into a huge industry. Most of a family’s needs could be delivered by the butcher, the baker, the fishmonger, the cataloguers, and the milkman every day with his horse. Their swift decline was brutal but not generally mourned because of the popularity of the alternatives which provided wider choices of cheaper goods. By 1990 home shopping was limited to providers of specialist products and a few top end shops who would do home delivery at a price.