What did internet users in Great Britain do online in 2015?


For many in the UK, it’s hard to imagine a time before the internet, even though it has only really been prevalent in homes since the mid-to-late ‘90s. Over the years, the way we have used the internet has changed drastically. Where once we would have ‘dialled up’ on our home computers using a modem, searched on Lycos and waited at 56K-per-second as a website slowly downloaded before our eyes, we now use our smartphones wherever we are and access streaming video content instantly (4G signal permitting, of course).

As our technology has become smaller, and faster, our demand for more content and more ways we can avoid actual face-to-face contact with people has increased. But just how have we British been using the internet over the last 12 months?

Here at the Online Learning Academy, we have a keen interest in how the internet is accessed and what it is used for, so we have been looking at some in-depth research into the matter. Using data provided by the Office for National Statistics (UK), we’ve analysed activities performed by internet users in Great Britain in 2015, with some of the results being quite surprising indeed.

The biggest online activity among Brits is…

Of the 1,800 households in Great Britain surveyed, a perhaps unsurprising 76% of people said they use the internet for sending and receiving emails. This figure might actually surprise some, however, as it does mean that 24% didn’t profess to sending and receiving emails – which has been the staple form of communication online since the inception of the internet. This figure ‘only’ being 76% could, perhaps, be explained by the proportion of spam emails being sent online, with recent figures from securelist.com for Q1 2015 reporting that 59.2% of all emails are classed as spam.

Whether or not you consider 76% of people sending and receiving emails to be a large or small number, it is still the largest activity carried out online by people in Great Britain in 2015.

We’re S H O P P I N G, we’re shopping

The second most performed activity online by Brits last year was researching goods and services, which effectively means using search engines to find what they’re looking for and, most likely, the cheapest place to get it.

The last few years has seen a vastly changing landscape on the high streets of Britain, with many long-established names closing their doors for the final time. The rise in online shopping is considered the main reason for the perceived demise of the high street, with retail giants such as Amazon aggressively undercutting their rivals on price. With shoppers choosing cost as their main distinguishing factor when deciding where to buy, many retailers have been simply unable to compete with the larger websites. The internet offers 24-hour shopping, with no need to leave the home, no need to park the car and no need to battle with other shoppers for bargains. Brits have embraced this concept, but at a cost to the landscape on the high street.

Brits love to shop for bargains

This has been confirmed with the figures from Black Friday sales in the UK in 2015. While online sales were reported to be up by 36% on the previous year, footfall in stores was reported to have fallen by 4% as shoppers chose to shop online at the expense of the high street.

Read all about it!

Further showing the impact the internet has had on our lives in Britain is the fact that 62% of Brits now read news, newspapers and magazines online. This figure is, perhaps, bad news for the publishing and print industries and explains why many news outlets now put so much stock into their websites, and why many magazines either have additional digital versions you can download, or are now completely digital only. The issue for printed publications has always been speed of breaking news, with the tabloids only ever able to print the news as it was the day before. The internet, in contrast, can break the news as it happens.

This breaking news issue neatly brings us onto the next statistic, which is that 61% of Brits use the internet for social media, with Facebook and Twitter leading the way. Twitter has, for a long time, been the go-to place for breaking news for events of national and international significance. With people able to tweet direct from their phones, from wherever they are, eyewitness reports of events in motion now bypass the news outlets completely, and are available on Twitter in a stream of real-time updates. Perhaps the first instance of this happening on a global scale on Twitter was the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, where rumours and stories spread virally on Twitter before more traditional news sources could act. This, at the time, caused Twitter to crash under the weight of people trying to find out what had happened – something Twitter has since taken steps to ensure doesn’t happen again with breaking global news.

The events in Paris in November also saw live updates on Twitter from people caught in the middle of the attacks, making a more instant (if not 100% reliable) source of information.

For many, Facebook IS the internet. Whether or not you believe the reports that younger internet users are abandoning Facebook in favour of the next big thing, Facebook remains the single most Googled word as people, instead of typing the URL for Facebook into their browser, simply type ‘Facebook’ into Google and click on Facebook as the first result.

This has been the case in Britain since 2008, and is also the same story across the pond in the USA. It will probably be the same for many years to come until internet usage trends make people switch from using desktop machines entirely in favour of tablets and smartphones, and Facebook is used almost exclusively via the app rather than a browser. In 2007, incidentally, the last time ‘Facebook’ wasn’t the top Googled word in Britain, ‘BBC’ was the most searched word.

The exit polls say…

One aspect of this survey that can come as no surprise at all is the low number of people who said they used the internet to vote on civic or political issues, or posted their civic or political opinions online. As a country, we have a very low turnout for elections, although the turnout for the 2015 general election was reported to be the highest it has been for 18 years. Even so, only 8% of Brits said they used the internet to take part in online consultancies and vote in civic or political issues, and only 14% said they posted their civic or political opinions online.

Brits take their job prospects more seriously, however, with 25% of people saying they used the internet in 2015 to look, or apply, for a job. A further 15% stated they use the internet for professional networking, with LinkedIn being the forerunner in that department. LinkedIn announced in 2014 that it had surpassed 15 million UK members, which is roughly 23% of the population.

Further looking to enhance their job prospects, 37% of Brits said they used the internet to research further education and online training courses, with the online courses industry currently booming in both the UK and the US. Lynda.com leads the way in the sector, and the industry was predicted to reach $107 billion in 2015 by market research firm Global Industry Analysts.


The data shows us that the internet is a vital tool for many aspects of life for Brits. We use it for shopping, communicating with friends, online banking and diagnosing illnesses (although we should probably leave that last one to the professionals). We use the internet to further our careers, or find new ones, and to further our education. Even, in some small part, we use it to talk about politics. Since its arrival in the ‘90s, the internet has formed an integral part of our daily lives, although we still choose to Google ‘Facebook’ out of laziness or habit.

The internet is here to stay, much to the chagrin of many other, more established, traditions.

The full list of activities performed by people in Great Britain in 2015 can be seen below. Respondents to the survey were 16 years or over, and the survey was conducted via face-to-face interviews and was carried out as part of the ‘Opinions and Lifestyle Survey’ by the Office of National Statistics.

Activities performed online by individuals in Great Britain in 2015

Categories: Research

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