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Ofcom reveals a year lived online

With high street shops forced to close due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, UK online shopping sales rose by 48% to nearly £113bn in 2020

Mark Moran
10 June 2021
Average daily time online by age (Ofcom)


UK adults spent more time online on desktop computers, smartphones or tablets in 2020 than those in comparable European countries, according to Ofcom’s annual study into the nation’s online habits.

The Online Nation 2021 report looks at an year when communication, entertainment, culture, retail, work and education moved more online.
UK adults spent more than three-and-a-half hours online each day in 2020 – more than an hour longer than those in Germany and France, and 30 minutes more than in Spain.

Brits also spent nearly £2.45bn on, and in, mobile apps across last year, with Tinder, Disney+, YouTube and Netflix topping the list.

With high street shops forced to close due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, UK online shopping sales rose by 48% to nearly £113bn in 2020. Food and drinks retailers’ online stores saw the biggest increase in sales, up by 82% on 2019, while sales of household goods also surged – by 76% – due to heightened interest in home improvements.

Children’s online purchasing power also grew, enabled by digital pocket money apps and pre-paid debit cards. Since the spring 2020 lockdown, teenagers have been spending more money online than offline, and this trend has continued into 2021, with 68% of spend online and 32% offline in March 2021.

Around one-in-eight online adult Brits and more than one-in-five of those aged 15-34 said they used an online dating service before the spring lockdown in 2020. Tinder was the most popular dating app among young online UK adults – visited by 11% of 18-24s in September 2020 – while Plenty of Fish was most popular among the 45-54 age group. However, lockdown also saw an increase in romance scams, with money lost to fraudsters increasing by 12% to £18.5m.

Social video sites and apps are used by almost all UK adult internet users, and by more than nine-in-ten 3-4 four-year-olds. Young adults are particularly heavy users of social video platforms, with 18-24s spending an average of 1 hour 16 minutes per day on YouTube in September 2020 – an increase of 11 minutes since 2019.

TikTok experienced huge growth during the pandemic – from three million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021. TikTok also saw the biggest increase in daily use among young adults – with 18-24s more than doubling their time spent on it in the year to September 2020 – up from 17 minutes to 38 minutes.

Around half (49%) of UK adults (around 26 million) visited an adult website or app in September 2020. The largest, Pornhub, was visited by around a third of online adults in September 2020 – representing half of all UK online men, and 16% of UK online women.

Despite most platforms having a minimum user age of 13, nearly two-thirds of UK children use social media by the time they are 11. By the age of 15, use increases to 95%.

About nine-in-ten older children (8-15s) say social media helped them feel closer to friends during the pandemic. But a similar proportion of teenagers say it prompts popularity pressures. Two-thirds of boys and three-quarters of girls aged seven to 16 also agree that social media can cause worries about body image.

More than half of 12-15s reported having a negative experience online in 2020. The most common experience, cited by almost a third, was someone they didn’t know attempting to befriend them online. A significant minority had seen something scary or troubling, or content of a sexual nature that made them uncomfortable.

“In an unprecedented year, we’ve seen a real acceleration in our migration to online services, which, for many people, have provided a lifeline in lockdown,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director of strategy and research. “This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics an

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