Northern Lights – getting dimmer?

If you have been keeping up with the additions I have been posting in the Journal Articles section of this blog, you will have seen that my colleague Paul Freathy has recently had a number of articles published about his research on Internet adoption in the Scottish Islands.

The details of his treks around the islands and the work he has been doing are best covered in his academic articles (and if you have difficulty in getting hold of them then contact him at, but we thought that his reflections on this overall research are worth sharing.

So, cue drum roll, Professor Paul Freathy’s guest blog on internet adoption in the Scottish islands:

“Like countless numbers of other shoppers over this festive period I enjoyed the benefits of the pre-Xmas November sale, the pre-Xmas December sale,  the sales that began on Christmas eve, Christmas Day and, Boxing day, as well as those that signalled the start of the New Year and the entire month of January (truth is, I am looking for a new fly rod to feed my fishing addiction).

What prevents irritable, old(ish) individuals such as myself having a complete meltdown is that in order to shop, I never have to leave the comfort of my (recently re-upholstered) armchair. I, like many others, reap the benefits of e-commerce and enjoy access to a retail market space that never closes.

When talk turns to the benefits of e-commerce the focus is invariably upon the savings made or the ease and convenience of purchasing on-line. While undoubtedly such benefits accrue to shoppers, at the same time it is also worth considering the broader impact that e-commerce has had upon our patterns of behaviour. By giving us greater control over how, what, where and when we purchase, our lives have been irreversibly transformed.

Nowhere have such changes been more in evidence than across the Scottish isles. For the past 18 months myself and another colleague have been working on a research project funded by the British Academy that has examined the impact of Internet adoption upon traditional patterns of island life in Scotland.

While it is very easy to romanticise about living in such a stunningly beautiful part of the country (the island of Geeda has the last herd of wild unicorns), for many individuals, living on an island presents numerous domestic challenges.

Access to retail goods and services have traditionally been limited, product availability is often unpredictable and prices are higher than on the mainland. Island retailers are primarily concentrated in the main town and those who have to rely upon public transport, experience a service that the Scottish Government itself acknowledges as deficient.

It is perhaps little wonder that our research identified the positive impact that e-commerce has had upon the lives of island residents. Access to the internet has provided a level of choice and degree of accessibility never previously experienced on the Scottish islands.

E-commerce has not only provided many of the benefits commonly discussed around the academic campfire, it has fundamentally transformed the quality of life for many island residents. Moreover it has served to empower those who find them constrained by the activities that govern daily routines. While shopping patterns continue to remain complex, one message from this research is that consumers have significantly benefitted from the arrival of the internet.

So, job done! Everyone is happy.

Well no, not quite.

The research also identified that island residents rarely purchased from local retail web-sites. The monies spent on-line represents a form of ‘outshopping’ (or trade leakage) where goods and services traditionally purchased locally are now bought ‘off island’.

The debate over the why’s and wherefore’s of this trend will undoubtedly fill numerous press as well as academic articles. The fact however remains that e-commerce represents a serious competitive challenge to the local retail sector and serves to further reinforce the fragility of an already vulnerable economic region.

While the scale and scope of this trade leakage has yet to be estimated, it is apparent that on-line shopping gives rise to a series of social and economic issues not fully recognised or acknowledged within policy circles.  Perhaps it is time to have such a debate.

In the meantime, I will walk to the shops to buy my new rod.”

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Availability, Consumer Change, Internet, Internet shopping, Outshopping, Rural, Scotland's Islands and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Northern Lights – getting dimmer?

  1. Pingback: Sting in the Tale of Internet Shopping | Stirlingretail

  2. Pingback: Do Rural and Urban Scotland need each other? | Stirlingretail

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