Signs of change? A longitudinal study of Internet adoption in the UK retail sector

Ellis-Chadwick, Fiona; Doherty, Neil and Hart, Cathy (2002). Signs of change? A longitudinal study of Internet adoption in the UK retail sector. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 9(2) pp. 71–80.



The Internet and the World Wide Web have changed quite significantly in a relatively short period of time. Some of the differences are readily quantifiable or at least easily visible; e.g., exponential growth rates in the number of users, rapid expansion in the number of personal and business web sites, an increase in transmission speeds and the advent of new markup scripts, such as DHTML. Whilst these quantifiable changes and technological improvements are a valuable benchmark when considering the practical ramifications of developing an on-line business, from a strategic perspective it is perhaps more important to consider the extent to which Internet technologies are likely to effect long-term changes to organisational behaviour and economic activity. For instance, in the book retailing business, Internet vendors, benefiting from comparatively low on-line set-up costs, have been able to use price as a major marketing tool. This action has resulted in reduced profit margins across the sector. Therefore, from a retailer's perspective perhaps the most important issue to resolve is not whether there are sufficient customers on-line but how e-commerce is likely to reshape their markets and business processes. However, little academic research exists which has recorded Internet adoption trends, over time, making assessment of such issues difficult. This paper seeks to redress the balance by presenting a comprehensive and rigorous longitudinal review of the adoption of e-commerce within the UK retail sector. More specifically, the paper provides an up to date assessment of the state of e-commerce within the UK retail sector, before reviewing trends in its adoption over a four-year period form 1997 to 2000. The key finding is that whilst clear evidence of growth has been found across all types of retailers, it is fastest amongst larger retailers, and those operating in sectors such as books, alcoholic beverages and mail order. The paper concludes by offering implications for retail practitioners and for research.

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