Online reshaping UK retail

27 April 2011

LONDON: Consumers in the UK are increasingly seeking out information on retailers and products via online and mobile search, a new study has revealed.

Trade body the British Retail Consortium and online giant Google partnered to release the first in a regular series of reports monitoring relevant search requests across PC, mobile and tablets.

In all, the number of enquiries rose by 29% in the opening three months this year on an annual basis.

Entries made through mobile phones climbed by 181% during the same timeframe, meaning the medium yielded 11% of the total activity recorded between January and March 2011.

Multi-channel retailers, typically boasting a bricks-and-mortar and web presence, had a 42% leap in interest, standing at 19% for their counterparts only operating digitally.

The most popular items were "boots", "dresses and "fancy dress", making up the top three, followed by "beds", "kitchens", "curtains" and "sofas".

Apple's iPod Touch music player constituted the individual product generating the greatest level of attention, beating Amazon's Kindle ebook reader, and the iPod Nano.

The study suggested the overall trend skewed towards comparatively expensive offerings which encourage shoppers to compare prices from various sources, and goods not always accessible on the high-street.

Netizens in London delivered 46% of searches, with customers in the North posting 25%, ahead of the Midlands' 14%, the South on 10%, Scotland's 4%, and Wales, securing a modest 1%.

Stephen Robertson, the British Retail Consortium's director general, argued the web was the fastest-growing part of the industry, and thus demanded a strategic emphasis.

"Despite any short-term effects from weakening consumer confidence, what stands out here is the fundamental strength of the growth of online retailing," he said.

"The star performer is mobile. A three-fold increase reveals customers are taking to smartphone and tablet shopping very rapidly."

Robertson added: "The rise of mobile use to one in ten searches sends a valuable message to any forward-thinking retailer that doesn't yet have an m-commerce platform."

Organisations must also focus their efforts on serving domestic consumers and catering for expanding cross-border traffic.

The BRC/Google analysis stated the amount of people searching for UK-based retail websites jumped 27% in the first quarter, promising potential international opportunities.

Similarly, however, UK shoppers looked for vendors outside their home market 21% more often, stimulated by favourable exchange rates and hardening trust in foreign providers.

Data sourced from British Retail Consortium; additional content by Warc staff