Two hundred years after Napoleon's infamous comment that Britain was a nation of shopkeepers, something has changed. According to "The Connected Kingdom: How the Internet Is Transforming the U.K. Economy," a report commissioned by Google, the Internet is more valuable to the U.K. economy than its construction or transportation industries, with the online economy generating £100 billion last year, or 7.2% of GDP. Translation: Britain is now a nation of online shoppers.
Britons spend more on the Internet than even the U.S., where the annual Cyber Monday was, in 2008, the third biggest online shopping day of the year. In fact, the country is ranked sixth on the Global Internet League Table (the U.S. is ranked 11th). It's an astonishing figure, when you think that around 20% of the British population isn't online, something that the Government's Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox, is trying to change.
It's not that Americans don't spend money online—witness the soaring profits at Amazon and Zappos. But for every satisfactory online experience, there is a bad one. Last year, over $144 billion of transactions were made in the U.S., but a further $44 billion could have been lost due to bad customer experiences.
And there's more growth in store, with the figure expecting to rise by between 3 and 6% in the next few years. "If we get universal broadband penetration, we think we'll get to 13%," says Paul Zwillenberg of Boston Consulting Group, and one of the report's authors. "Everyone thinks the global Silicon Valley-based companies are driving growth, but this report makes clear that in the U.K. it is coming from the 'Mom' and 'Pop' businesses. They now have global footprints, they are selling to the long tail, and they are making their businesses more efficient."
What makes the Internet industry in the U.K. boom, then? Zwillenberg points to two factors: the lack of enormo-stores such as Wal-Mart (its British subsidiary, Asda, doesn't have nearly the square footage of the U.S. giant) and the fact that many Brits subscribe to the notion of "rip-off Britain"—namely, that everything in our green and pleasant land is overpriced. Add to the fact that time is becoming the most precious commodity of a person's life, then a warthogs of the Serengeti-style stampede towards the computer becomes understandable.