Preference Choice Publication

Ofcom report reveals a year lived online

Gabby Fernie

UK adults spent an average of three hours and 37 minutes online every day during 2020, according to Ofcom's Online Nation 2021 report. 

This is over half an hour more than those in comparable European countries including Germany, France and Spain. 

During an unprecedented year due to the pandemic, communication, entertainment, culture, retail, work, and education made a giant shift to online.

With high street shops forced to close, UK online shopping sales rose by 48 per cent to nearly £113bn in 2020. Online food and drinks retail stores saw the biggest increase in sales, up by 82 per cent on 2019.

With the many stuck at home during lockdown, the sales of household goods also surged by 76 per cent 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.

The report found many people were glued to their phones last year. Mobile apps cost British people nearly £2.45bn with the majority going on Tinder, Disney+, YouTube and Netflix.

TikTok grew rapidly, Ofcom said, from 3m adult visitors in September 2019 to 14m by March this year. TikTok also saw the biggest increase in daily use among young adults, with 18-24s more than doubling their time spent on it – up from 17 minutes to 38 minutes in September 2020. 

Tinder remained the most popular dating app in among young UK adults aged 18-24, with 11 per cent visiting the app in September 2020.

Adults aged 45-54 preferred site Plenty Of Fish, although 2020 saw an increase in romance scams across all dating sites, with money lost to fraudsters hitting £18.5m - an increase of 12 per cent.

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

Despite nearly two thirds of UK children using social media by the time they are 11 years old, 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.

However, about nine in ten older children (8-15s) say social media helped them through the pandemic by connecting them to their friends.

"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 Ofcom's Group Director of Strategy and Research, Yih-Choung Teh. "This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics and behaviour, as we prepare to take on new responsibilities for regulating online safety."