Its Online Nation 2021 report looked at an unprecedented 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.
Shopping bill arrives
With high street shops forced to close due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, UK online shopping sales rose by 48% to nearly £113 billion 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. 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.