Destination shopping will return, says this writer.
Having had so much change forced upon us by this cursed viral crisis, we can all be forgiven for despairing that things will never again ‘settle down’. And yet they will, albeit at a different kind of normal from what we considered normal before; itself merely the latest in our ever-changing view of normalcy. With this in mind, I will spend a moment reflecting on the fast-moving journey the UK has made in relation to its adoption of e-commerce.
Before I consider how retail behaviour across the UK has changed dramatically since the pandemic denied us access to so many go-to retail and leisure destinations, I want to reflect back on the no less dramatic changes pre-coronavirus.
It is quite remarkable that as recently as 2008 less than 1/20th of UK retail sales were performed online. Within a decade, 1/20th became 1/5th, doing so thanks to an annual growth rate in online sales averaging 20%. However, having recorded stunning double-digit year-on-year percentage growth for over a decade, what we saw through 2019 was a slowdown in the pace at which internet retail sales increased. Such was this deceleration that in the closing months of 2019, and first two months of 2020, year-on-year growth in e-commerce fell to single digits – not that much greater than the growth of sales at bricks and mortar premises. The result was the internet share of UK retailing seeming to plateau at around 20%, albeit being considerably higher than practically every other developed nation. It was with the evidence of slowing internet sales growth that in February 2020 I began to give real credence to the idea that maybe we in the UK had reached our Peak Retail Internet Penetration (Peak RIP). If that was indeed the case, it would have brought a great deal of relief to landlords along high streets and across shopping centres, whose fortunes had been so compromised by our moving online rather than from store to store.