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Shop Direct celebrates 20 years of online shopping

August 11, 2014

Shop Direct, the UK’s leading multi-brand digital retailer, has marked twenty years since the first ever online sale by commissioning research[1] into our online shopping habits in 2014, as well as looking back at those early days to find out when and what our first purchase was.

On 11th August 1994, the world’s first secure ecommerce transaction took place, with a Sting CD selling in the States to the value of $12.48. Twenty years on, Ofcom stats reveal that the UK is the global online shopping capital with more spent per capita than any other country, and Brits spending £91 billion online last year[2]. 

Shop Direct’s research, released today, shows that 95% of us now shop online, with one in four doing so at least once a week. Books (64%), clothing and accessories (60%), music and entertainment (56%), electronics (54%) and holidays and travel (50%) top the list of the things we buy online.

The survey of more than 1,000 people shows that while laptops and PCs are still the principal shopping devices, one in five now shop on a tablet and, on average, one in ten via their mobile.

Despite the fact that we have been able to shop online for the last 20 years, Brits – on average – first dipped their toe into the brave new world of online shopping just nine years ago (2005), though 12% were already shopping online before the turn of the century. Back then, the first purchases were most likely to be books, whereas in 2014, the most recent online purchase is most likely to be fashion. 

A third of our clothing and footwear purchases are now done online. We buy more than a quarter of our furniture and homeware this way and almost 40% of electrical products are bought via a PC, laptop or mobile device. Just 20 years after its inception, shopping online is now such a seamless part of our lives that it extends from breakfast to the boardroom to bedtime and beyond. More than a quarter like to shop online in bed, one in seven do so before work and one in 20 shop during their morning commute.

As online shopping has developed, we have seen the arrival of pureplay ‘etailers’ with the unique challenge of needing to get closer to customers during their online shopping despite having no physical contact with the people that shop with them. As a leading digital retailer, Shop Direct has addressed this by launching a new in-house user experience (UX) laboratory at its head office in Liverpool as a way to get closer to and interact with customers using their websites, which include, and

The retailer is the first in the UK to build a UX lab in-house and is using it to work with customers to test new technologies and identify ways to personalise and enhance the online shopping experience.

Gareth Jones, group retail and strategy director at Shop Direct, said: “Twenty years ago, laptops and mobile phones were a rarity in most people’s homes, social media was in its infancy and high speed internet access didn’t exist. So when online shopping first came along, etailers had no real way of knowing what customers wanted or why certain products or areas of their websites performed better than others. As a result, the shopping experience was centred around the business rather than the customer. 

“Today’s online shopping experience starts and ends with the customer. We have a wealth of data at our fingertips and use it to understand what customers are looking for and why they shop and respond the way they do.

“Cutting edge innovations like our UX lab help us get closer to our customers and take even more of the guesswork out of online retail. We now know when we make changes to our websites or introduce new pieces of technology or functionality that customers are going to gain some benefit from them. That helps us deliver a far more seamless and intuitive shopping experience.” 


[1] The research was carried out by Opinion Matters between 29/07/2014 and 01/08/2014 with a sample of 1,163 UK adults who shop online. All research conducted adheres to the MRS Codes of Conduct (2010) in the UK and ICC/ESOMAR World Research Guidelines. Opinion Matters is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and is fully compliant with the Data Protection Act (1998).

[2] CapGemini data


Shop Direct                Lauren Young    

0844 292 4799

Brunswick                  Helen Smith       

                                                                        0207 936 7419                       


Shop Direct is the UK’s leading multi-brand digital retailer, with annual sales of £1.7 billion. Our digital department store brands include, and and receive an average of 950,000 website visits every day.

We exist to make good things easily accessible to more people. With our department store range, unique financial services offer and market-leading ecommerce and technology capabilities, we’re well placed to deliver on this promise. 

We sell more famous brands than any other UK retailer, including big name labels and our own exclusive brands, and deliver 48 million parcels each year to millions of active customers.

For more information on Shop Direct, visit or follow us on Twitter @ShopDirect.