UK most digitally advanced country in Europe, but trust issues linger

14 June 2021 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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A new survey of consumers has revealed that the UK is the most digitally advanced country in Europe in terms of service delivery. As the pandemic recedes, consumers are likely to reign in their use of online services, though, due to their growing wariness of how their data is handled. 

Digital services have formed a key cornerstone of daily life in Britain over the last year. With non-essential stores ordered to close during the nation’s coronavirus response, residents have had to turn to digital avenues to receive goods and services in record numbers. 

According to a new report by McKinsey & Company, lockdown saw digital users in the UK estimated to have hit 43 million people by early 2021, with around 7 million people having accessed new digital services since Christmas. Those numbers suggest that the UK is one of the world’s most digitally advanced nations – and the most advanced in Europe. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven unprecedented numbers of consumers into digital channels

With 86% of British residents thought to have used e-commerce or online services in the past six months, only India and Brazil saw higher digital engagement. As the pandemic continues to ravage both nations, it is estimated that they have seen a respective 88% and 97% of their populations turn to online services. Meanwhile, France was the next most digitally engaged country in Europe, on 82%, followed by Germany on a distant 65%. 

While consumers have reached record high levels of digital penetration across most regions and industries, though, McKinsey anticipates that the progress is levelling off across Europe and North America. Even though digital adoption will almost certainly remain above pre-pandemic levels, the researchers added that many sectors and geographies will probably see a moderate negative net change to digital use. 

Partially, the report suggested, this will be due to people’s gradual reintroduction to communal life. With bricks-and-mortar stores able to reopen, and civic buildings able to house public services once more, consumer expectations suggest a strong return to physical channels, with the travel, banking, telco carrier and entertainment sectors likely to see the strongest ‘real world’ resurgence. 

Improve digital services and experiences

At the same time, however, McKinsey found that consumers across the board were also keen to take back control of their personal information. In the UK, for example, the study found that 35-44 year-olds were largely planning to scale back on their use of digital services after the pandemic, citing "distrust" as a result of data handling.

This was also apparent in questions around security, with 44% of respondents suggested they didn't fully trust digital services. McKinsey stated that improving trust was therefore essential for companies looking to maintain their levels of digital engagement.

At the same time, the study encouraged firms to also improve their user interface design. With 56% of respondents noting they were dissatisfied on these grounds, improved interfaces could not only build for greater usability among demographics such as older people, but also boost transparency to in turn upgrade trust.