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E-commerce statistics 2020 The UK is the world’s third-largest e-commerce market, with nearly £200 billion in sales in 2019. Whether you’re an international or UK-based online retailer, doing business in the UK provides plenty of opportunities to grow your business.

And speaking of growth: did you know that the global e-commerce market currently has a growth rate of 6.7%? Even as other industries have been impacted by a downturn in sales since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, online retail continues to grow, especially in major e-commerce markets like the UK.

How can you ensure that your online retail business is fully prepared to tap into the booming UK market? That’s one of the key questions that Sendcloud wanted to answer through our recent statistical market research. We surveyed over 8,000 consumers across Europe, including more than 1,000 in the UK alone. You can download the full e-commerce statistics research here, for free…

The insights we discovered help retailers like you to finely tune your business’s shipping strategy so that you cater more effectively to your UK customers’ wishes and expectations.

E-commerce statistics: the UK is an e-commerce powerhouse

Although online shopping is extremely popular throughout the world now, no other country in Europe has embraced online shopping more fully than the UK. Analysts have noted that e-commerce now accounts for more than one quarter of all retail sales inside the country. This number is expected to steadily increase in the years ahead, reaching nearly one-third of all retail sales by 2024.

Online shopping has become an everyday fact of life for millions of UK consumers. And this means that UK shoppers are well accustomed to receiving (and returning) merchandise bought online. With such a high level of online shopping experience, UK consumers have great expectations when it comes to delivery speed, user experience and smooth returns procedures. To succeed in this thriving market, online retailers must take these expectations into account. 

What are the UK’s top e-commerce delivery trends for 2020 and beyond?

To help you provide the best-possible shipping experience for your UK customers, we’re breaking down the top findings of our extensive market research into this quick overview. 

If you want to dive deeper into the statistics (which we highly recommend), please also make sure to download the full report.

Insights from the customer journey

In this article, we walk you through the UK online shopper’s customer experience, covering every point of the checkout and shipping process. This reveals exactly what UK customers expect to happen, from the moment they click ‘Add to cart’. You’ll find insights on the following four steps of the customer journey:

  • The checkout experience (including cart abandonment)
  • Shipping costs
  • Tracking notifications
  • Return policies

Industry trend insights

We’ll also show you the most important insights that our research uncovered on these industry-wide trending topics:

  • Customer expectations in the age of COVID-19
  • Green shipping
  • International e-commerce

E-commerce statistics #1: It’s time to fine-tune your checkout experience

Few words can strike fear into an online retailer’s heart as quickly as ‘cart abandonment’. A customer has added items to the cart, they’re on the verge of making a purchase, everything’s going great, and then… crickets. They’ve browsed off without completing the order.

Why is cart abandonment at an all-time high? Our research of UK consumers reveals some of the main culprits:

  • Shipping costs: Excessive shipping costs are the number-one reason UK shoppers cite for abandoning their carts. 61% said they’ll ditch the cart if delivery costs are too high for their liking.
  • Slow delivery: 41% said long delivery times are grounds for cart abandonment.
  • Courier preference: UK shoppers are slightly more loyal to their preferred couriers than shoppers in other European countries. A full 25% of UK shoppers say they’ll abandon a cart if their preferred courier is not listed among the shipping options (compared to 21% in the rest of Europe).  


leave a webshop

Industry tips: Design your checkout process with your UK customers’ preferences in mind:

  • Do your research to find the most popular carrier for your UK customers and be sure to offer a range of convenient shipping options.
  • Avoid unpleasant surprises during checkout, especially hidden shipping costs.
  • Communicate shipping and delivery information clearly from the outset.

A transparent, inviting checkout experience builds trust. And that’s step one to preventing cart abandonment. Offering customers with a choice of delivery methods – from Next-Day to letterbox delivery – you also empower your customers to continue with their purchase. 

Retailer tip: Make sure you’re calculating the VAT on shipping correctly as well, otherwise you could be increasing your shipping costs too much, or failing to charge the right amount.

E-commerce statistics #2: free shipping is a win-win.

…But how much are UK customers willing to pay (and wait) for delivery?

As any online retailer knows: there’s no such thing as ‘free shipping’. Yet, increasingly, retailers are discovering that offering free shipping on orders that exceed a certain price can actually boost sales.

Nearly three out four UK online shoppers say they are very likely to add extra items to the cart to reach the threshold for free shipping. In other words, free shipping is a win-win for you and your customers: they are happy with the free delivery—and you are selling more merchandise.

If you’re not too keen on offering free shipping, you’re probably wondering how much UK customers are willing to pay for shipping these days. Here’s part of what our research revealed:

  • Purchase amount versus shipping costs: Interestingly, most UK consumers prefer shipping costs to be proportionate to the purchase amount. That means that, on average, they expect low shipping costs on low-cost purchases (below £15), but are willing to pay more to ship higher-value orders (above £150). 

But watch out: nearly one-third (29%) of UK shoppers say they are unwilling to pay any shipping costs on orders of £150 or more.

  • Fast delivery: Speedy delivery is the norm in the UK, where many major online retailers now offer next-day and even same-day delivery. On average, UK shoppers expect that if they place an order before 4:43 PM that it will be delivered to them the next day. A growing number of shoppers now set that cut-off time at 8 PM. For same-day delivery, the majority of British shoppers expect a cut-off time of 2 PM.

Industry tips: Based on our findings, here’s what you can do to meet your UK customers’ shipping expectations. 

  • Consider offering free shipping to customers who reach a certain value threshold. This is a great incentive to get them to add more items to the cart, which most of them will do.
  • Use a high-speed delivery service who can offer the next-day turnaround times your UK customers expect. Most UK carriers offer next-day and 48-hour delivery services at competitive prices, knowing that express delivery is now the norm here.

E-commerce statistics #3: tracking is more than just a status update

The tracking process is one of the most engaging steps of the e-commerce logistics. Our research reveals that consumers actually love checking their order’s tracking notifications.

This has led many retailers to start using tracking messages as an opportunity for offering sales messaging too. Since consumers are almost sure to check their tracking notifications, you’re virtually guaranteed an audience for your sales messaging. And this works even better when you can personalise your offering, based on what you already know about your customer’s preferences.

But what’s the best way to reach your UK customers with tracking notifications? Here are a couple things we found out:

  • Mobile is everything: Most UK customers (57%) now prefer to receive tracking notifications by SMS, with another 35% preferring to use the courier’s app and 17% preferring Whatsapp.
  • Email is still something: A majority (54%) said they also use email to check tracking notifications.


Insider tips: So, given what you know about your UK customers’ preferences, here’s what you can do to leverage tracking notifications as part of your sales strategy:

  • Make it mobile-friendly. Since most UK shoppers will view notifications on their phones, ensure that your message is tailored to mobile viewing.
  • Offer personalised tracking notifications that specifically retarget your customers with additional sales messaging. Just be careful not to overdo it. The main point of tracking notifications should still be to offer good service and inform your customers.

E-commerce statistics #4: your returns policy is a conversion tool

UK consumers are well-acquainted with online shopping, which means they are not at all hesitant to return merchandise that doesn’t meet their expectations. What’s more, most UK shoppers view the returns procedure as a fundamental part of the online shopping experience. So, they have clear expectations of what constitutes an acceptable returns policy, and what does not.

As a retailer, it’s important to craft your returns policy so that it keeps consumers as happy as possible. A return does not mean that you’ve lost this customer. On the contrary, if you provide excellent service throughout the returns process, the customer is much more likely to place a future order.

e-commerce statistics returnsOur research found some interesting facts about how UK consumers view return shipping:

  • Access to your policy: More than half of UK shoppers check the returns policy before placing an order.
  • The retailer is responsible: A majority (56%) believe that it’s the retailer’s responsibility to arrange and pay for return shipping.
  • Return rates are high: 54% of UK shoppers regularly return items bought online, while 32% do so ‘sometimes’. In other words, nearly nine out of ten UK shoppers will deal with a returns policy at some point.
  • Return methods matter: UK shoppers have clear preferences about how they like to return products. Nearly half (44%) prefer to drop off a parcel at a carrier’s service point, while about one-third (30%) prefer the carrier to pick it up from them at home or at work.

Insider tips: Want to keep your UK customers happy and coming back for repeat business? Here are a few ideas for creating a customer-friendly returns policy:

  • Consider offering free return shipping. This satisfies customer expectations and almost always increases sales, so it’s a win-win.
  • Always make your returns policy clearly accessible on your site. Don’t bury it under your terms and conditions or other legalese. The majority of UK customers want to read it before making their purchase.
  • Enable customers to organise return shipping entirely through your site instead of leaving it fully up to them or referring them to third-party shipping companies.
  • Offer popular, convenient return methods, such as drop-off or pick-up, and make it easy for your customers to access a return postage label through your site.

E-commerce statistics #5: how the coronavirus pandemic is changing online consumer behaviour in the UK

Lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a major shift towards online shopping around the world. In the UK, 77% of consumers say that they have bought more products online since the beginning of the pandemic.

At the same time, the COVID pandemic has made UK online shoppers more patient when it comes to delivery times. Our research suggests that consumers understand how the crisis impacts carriers:

delivery times

  • More patience: On average, UK consumers are now willing to wait as long as 6.7 days for standard delivery (compared to 4 days before the crisis). This is higher than the European average of 6.4 days.
  • Delays are common: Over two-thirds of UK consumers surveyed said that they experienced shipping delays since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The average delay for shipping is currently 1.9 days, which is close to the European average of two days.
  • Supporting local business: UK shoppers have reported a major shift towards local retailers since the beginning of the crisis. While 45% of UK consumers happily ordered from international companies before the coronavirus outbreak, that number has now sunk to only 32%.


Insider tips: It’s clear that the COVID-19 crisis is affecting consumer attitudes towards online shopping (and shipping) in the UK. So, how can you do right by these changes in consumer behaviour right now?

  • Even though UK consumers are more patient at the moment, do everything you can to ensure they will still receive their orders on time.
  • Manage expectations by communicating clearly about shipping delays. Your customers are likely to show their understanding, but part of good service is to be transparent about delays from the outset.
  • If your business is UK-based, or you are offering products that are made in the UK, use messaging that emphasises these ‘local’ aspects. Supporting local business (even online) is a trendy topic among UK shoppers at the moment, so this message is likely to appeal to them.

E-commerce statistics #6: time to start offering green shipping? Maybe.

The environment is a growing concern for many retailers and consumers today. Yet, while nearly half (40%) of the UK consumers we surveyed said they would be willing to pay extra for carbon-neutral shipping, only 1% of online retailers currently offer this option.

Is it time for online retailers to start offering environmentally friendly shipping options? Here’s what our research reveals:

  • Packaging: Waste is currently a bigger concern for most online shoppers than carbon emissions.
  • Environmental impact: More than half of UK shoppers (57%) say they agree that online shopping poses risks for the environment.

Insider tips: Our research shows that UK customers are concerned about how their online shopping might impact the environment. So, what can you do as a retailer to put your customers’ minds at ease?

  • Ensure that your packaging is 100% recyclable.
  • Use less packaging materials for your shipments.
  • Consider offering carbon-neutral ‘green’ shipping. 

These measures may result in additional costs at first. However, the trend suggests that consumers are becoming increasingly mindful of the carbon footprint of their online shopping. By positioning your brand as a ‘green’ retailer, you raise your sustainability profile and appeal to the UK’s growing number of ecologically conscious shoppers.

E-commerce statistics #7: the UK market poses some challenges for international retailers

Cross-border e-commerce is rapidly growing in popularity in many European countries, but the UK is moving in the opposite direction right now. Local e-commerce is quickly on the rise here, and fewer shoppers are choosing international retailers.

Why are UK retailers going local? Here’s part of what our research had to say:

  • Preference for local business: Consumers in the UK are far more likely to ‘buy local’ than shoppers in other European countries. Only 45% say they have ordered a product internationally over the past 12 months (the second-lowest cross-border shopping rate in Europe after Germany, with 37%).
  • Excessive shipping costs: UK shoppers usually enjoy cheaper shipping options when ordering from a UK-based retailer.
  • Possible customs-related costs: Now that Brexit has taken effect, many UK consumers are concerned that they may have to pay import fees for international orders.
  • Difficulty returning products: Considering the importance of returns for UK shoppers, many are worried that it will be too much hassle to return an item that has been shipped internationally.

Insider tips:If you’re an international retailer trying to get ahead in the UK market, you’ve got some catching up to do. Delight your UK customers by catering to their wishes and putting their fears aside. Here are some tips:

  • If you’re not a UK-based company, then at least be sure to communicate like one. Localise your messaging to target your UK audience.
  • Consider offering free shipping on international orders to the UK. It’s a good idea to set a threshold for free shipping, as discussed above.
  • Be transparent about import costs. Assure your UK customers that their merchandise will be shipped along with all the relevant customs clearance documentation. Depending on the type and value of merchandise you are sending, you can predict the import costs and let your customers know them in advance.
  • Offer a convenient (and, if possible, free) return shipping option for your UK customers. This allows you to compete head-on with local retailers here, who already have an advantage over international businesses like yours.

What’s next for e-commerce?

Our recent market research reveals many insights into the direction UK e-commerce will take in the months and years ahead. What stands out above all is the competitive advantage of offering positive, customer-centric user experiences for UK consumers.

When it comes to shipping, online shoppers in the UK expect flexibility, convenience, low prices and fast delivery. For e-commerce retailers, that means carefully selecting your preferred carriers and possibly even offering a range of shipping and delivery options, so you cater to as many customers’ wishes as possible.

Want to find out more insights from our extensive market research? Download our full e-commerce report for an in-depth look at all the trends, statistics and predictions to help you grow your e-commerce business. Here you can create a free Sendcloud account and start optimising your shipping process immediately

Need more help with your shipping?

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