Online shopping growth goes on as public sharpen computer skills

Online shoppers are starting to desert the High Street, according to a new BCS study - but it also shows that many people are being excluded from electronic services.

Online shoppers are starting to desert the High Street, according to a new BCS study - but it also shows that many people are being excluded from electronic services.

About 35% of the people surveyed shop online - and nearly one-fifth of these now choose to shop online rather than visit the High Street. In addition, although 46% still prefer the High Street, 36% have no preference, again suggesting wide acceptance of online shopping.

Researchers interviewed, face to face, a representative sample of 2,113 people aged over 15 in England, Scotland and Wales.

"The number of online shoppers is up from 31% in last year's survey, representing an increase of nearly two million people," said BCS chief executive David Clarke. "This is a growing trend that will undoubtedly affect future over-the-counter retail patterns.

"There is satisfaction to be drawn from the nation's rapid grasp of computing skills. Two-thirds of the population now use a computer at home or work: indeed, 61% have access to a computer at home.

"The number of people with internet access is up from 55% last year to 60%, and the number with a personal e-mail address has risen from 37% to 43%. Many are enjoying the benefits of online shopping, and a sizeable number of people are now banking and accessing government services online."

But Clarke continued, "However, it should be noted that nearly 40% of people claim to have no access to the internet - and they are therefore failing to realise the benefits of being online. Yet most of us can now enjoy easy access to a computer without necessarily owning one, thanks to local libraries and colleges, internet cafes or mobile computer centres."

People aged 65 and over are still poorly represented among computer users: this group accounts for 21% of British adults but only 8% have access to a computer at home.

The top reasons for using a computer are web access, mentioned by 55%, e-mail (52%) and word processing (44%).

Using a computer for managing and editing digital photographs has shown the biggest increase since last year's survey, rising from 25% to 32% of those questioned.

The top reasons for using the web are research and fact-finding (36%), purchasing (35%), reading information or news on favourite websites (30%), and online banking (25%).

Among those who buy online, 53% have bought CDs and DVDs, 52% have booked a holiday, 45% have bought clothes, 39% have bought insurance and 38% have bought household appliances.

More than 70% have bought online in the past month, with 48% buying at least twice and 22% at least four times in the past month. The average amount spent was about £196.

Nearly three-quarters of those questioned feel the internet is beneficial to society - and 32% have confidence in the security of financial transactions via the internet.

The main aim of the survey was to investigate the extent of IT literacy among the public. Clarke said the BCS was committed to promoting public benefits and education in IT, and he pointed to the society's e-Citizen training scheme, launched this year to help people with little or no knowledge of computing to get to grips with practical uses of the internet.

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