How to log till online makes up 50% or so of the UK retail sales, asks an article in retailresearch.org. Peak e-commerce or peak online, how soon will we get peak online e-commerce, the articles throws a barrage of questions? The peak is one of those terms that have crept into general use unnoticed, along with upcoming, meet with, outage and step up to the plate! The report further takes up two of the main dailies in the UK, The Sun and The Times and dissects their findings on peak online and explodes the myth.Both the publications believe they have cracked peak online, forecasting that in five years' time online retailing will have captured 50% of the UK retail trade (the author thinks the dailies meant 2021) and asserts that this is nothing but nonsense, though it is based on a forecast made by a UK trade association closely identified with e-commerce. Apparently, the trade body found that online sales in the UK were around 140 billion pounds in 2015, was growing by 11% each year, and was already equivalent to 25% of the UK retail market, according to the report.Key IssueHowever wrong, both journals raise an interesting question. Will online retailing grow and grow and grow - and keep on growing - till it captures one-half or more of UK retail sales? What is the end game in e-commerce? Not everybody likes shopping, and there may be many including the Victorian socialist GK Chesterton (God made the wicked GrocerFor a mystery and a sign,That men might shun the awful shopsAnd go to inns to dine;G.K. Chesterton (1914) 'The Song Against Grocers', The Flying Inn) who would prefer to spend more of their life in pubs than grocery shops. His friend H G Wells ('he is so often nearly right' said Chesterton) failed to forecast e-commerce (who did?) though he did suggest cell-based message devices (mobiles?) (in Men Like Gods, 1923).
The Statistics Do Not ComputeIt is hard to believe that online retail already has 25% of UK retail sales. The (Centre for Retail Research) CRR's research puts the figure somewhere above 15% (2015). If one includes online sales of holidays, travel, betting, insurance etc then you might get £140 billion, but it would be folly to express this figure as a percentage only of retail sales of merchandise and end up with a worthwhile statistic. And if e-Commerce sales were an average of 25% of total retail sales, then this would mean that online non-food would have to have 56.5% of non-food retail sales, which is also nonsense. We know that online food is only 6% of food sales, so, statistically, non-food e-commerce would have to be massive to make up for food's small online share if total online retail equals 25% of all retail sales. The statistic that online is already 25% of retail sales does not relate to retailing as we know it.Peak Online: the TruthThe CRR view is that online retailers have 15%-16% of the UK retail market according to our annual surveys (retailresearch.org/onlineretailing.php).In the next few years, continued fast growth could mean that e-commerce might probably gain one-fifth (20%) of all annual retail trade by 2020 or 2021, and perhaps one-quarter (25%) by 2025. This is dependent on nothing else changing and the online future is a linear continuation of our recent past. At the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) we do not make ten-year or very long-term forecasts about the structure of retail, because they are almost certain to be wrong.Rights and WrongsPredictions are sometimes right but analytical forecasts are frequently wrong because researchers don't challenge established views, get too committed to the result they really want, assume the future will develop much like the recent past or under-estimate the likelihood of unplanned outcomes coming about.The Centre itself is mentioned in the Sun and Times reports on peak e-Commerce, but whatever these newspapers say we do not have any view about whether online will ever gain 40% or 50% of the UK retail market in the 2030s and 2040s. But we will be watching events closely, the report pointed out.Definitions:Retail