UK retail habits evolve

19 April 2011

LONDON: Increasing numbers of UK shoppers are using the internet to research and buy products, including turning directly to manufacturers rather than going via retailers.

Business services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers interviewed over 1,000 adults, and reported a "significant new pattern" of behaviour is emerging.

Indeed, it suggested nearly 20% of the panel currently spend almost half their disposable income on the web.

A further 14% obtain products in such a way more than once every seven days, and an equal proportion do so on a weekly basis.

This latter total has climbed from 4% two years ago, at which time 63% of participants regularly used the net for commercial purposes.

Looking ahead, 60% of the sample expected their ecommerce outlay would grow in the coming three years.

"Internet shopping has gone from rare to routine, which is having a profound impact on the way retailing works, both on the web and on the high street," the study said.

"While it's certainly true that there continues to be an increase in the amount of goods being bought online, the overall trend is now becoming more mature and more nuanced."

In 2007, factors like cost, convenience, product assortment, and home delivery enjoyed a broadly equivalent weight as incentives for acquiring items through this path.

A rapid change has occurred here, as ratings for the "lower prices" dimension rose from 70% to 72%.

Such figures stood at 42% and 65% respectively concerning the fact it is "easier to compare" brand characteristics online, alongside hitting 62% and 80% for shopping "whenever I want."

"People want to be able to shop from the sofa, in their lunch hour, watching TV, or even on the train," PwC said.

"But there's another important element in the mix, and a crucial one: however much time and money people are spending on the web, they haven't abandoned physical stores; they're just using them for different things."

Over 90% of contributors had completed transactions across at least two channels with a retailer, and more than 60% have a "portfolio" of between two and five favoured vendors.

Catalogue specialist Argos logged 65% in terms of attracting the same customers online and offline, reaching 18% for grocery giant Tesco, while high-end chains Marks & Spencer and John Lewis both secured 8%.

Among the key criteria for selecting a company in this area were the products available, scoring 69%, an easy-to-use website, yielding 63%, trust on 60%, and confidence in competitive pricing, recording 55%.

Regarding preferred methods of researching purchases, 44% outlined a partiality for only employing the internet, 23% solely wanted to do so in stores, while 21% mixed catalogues, online and/or bricks and mortar outlets.

When it came to receiving goods, 21% mentioned taking them home from stores and 46% desired home delivery after filing ordering digitally.

A fifth wished to mix stores and home delivery, and 4% name-checked "click and collect" tools.

Elsewhere, 28% of those polled had bought consumer products directly from a manufacturer to date, with 43% of this audience citing a full range or greater choice, and 41% believing lower prices were accessible in such a way.

An additional 37% stated the brand in question met their needs, 22% referenced loyalty to the specific offering, 13% cited improved service, and 11% alluded to enhanced experience.

Data sourced from PricewaterhouseCoopers; additional content by Warc staff