Ecommerce 2013: Are there ‘green shoots’ of recovery in the British economy?

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Ecommerce in Britain over the past five years has, quite remarkably, bucked most of the trends of the British economy. It continues to grow strongly and steadily. 2013 will be no different there.

In the UK, eBay and ecommerce was lucky to be born and enjoy its childhood years in the boom time. It’s surely why ecommerce has a greater penetration here than anywhere else in the world. Good times, swift broadband adoption, an effective postage system and easy access to credit cards all combined in the first decade of the 21st century to create a hothouse in which ecommerce could flourish.

But these stagnant doldrums in which the British economy continues to find itself are still a concern to ecommerce SMEs despite the rude good help of online shopping itself. And many will be anxious to know whether 2013 is going to be a year of recovery.

There are some positive signs. Unemployment is down (although it seems that these numbers may be soft and including a lot of part time and temp jobs). Inflation is down too but at 2.7%, higher than is desireable. Interest rates are still at a record low and likely to stay there (even if borrowing money is still difficult) and the deficit has been cut. The national debt, however, continues to grow. There is huge international uncertainty in the US and Europe and China is wobbling a little too.

Talk of a “triple dip” recession may be overly grim but it’s not an impossibility. But the real concern for ecommerce must lie with the ever squeezed household budgets. Public sector wage freezes combined with higher bills mean that there’s less disposable cash than there was. And government measures may squeeze budgets further: millions will be affected by the changes to working families tax credits which is coming in March/April.

There is an argument, needless to say, that says that when the going gets tough, the tough buy online as they look for bargains and try and stretch the budget further. It might also drive an uptick in hobby sellers on eBay and elsewhere.

I may be too gloomy, but I think we can all agree that 2013 is unlikely to be a year of plenty. And this year we don’t have the Jubilee and Olympic ‘circuses’ of 2012 to distract us. So perhaps the best we can do is pray for sun this Summertime to raise our spirits.


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