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EDITORIAL Can the new UKDBA save retail from the march of social commerce?

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

This week’s announcement that six behemoths of online retail are joining forces to form their own industry body – the UK Digital Business Association (UKDBA)– is both remarkable and unsurprising all at once.

To see Asos, Boohoo, Ocado, AO World, Gymshark and THG join together to promote online retail and, perhaps more tellingly, to promote how online retail is going to bring Britain back from the brink (and beat Brexit?) speaks volumes for the state of retail in 2021. These are the top flight, the heavyweights. These are the retailers that everyone is going to listen to.

It is a welcome move in many ways as it does bring a great deal of collective clout to lobbying for online retail. It is also likely to be where the new jobs and new investment in the industry comes from. These are the people we should be listening to.

It is also sad that none of the names that once dominated retail – the M&Ss, the John Lewis, the Arcadias – are part of this first tranche. Sure, many of the old guard are likely to want to get involved, but the fact that they didn’t set this up themselves, rather it fell to the upstart pureplays, says it all.

And what a tumultuous retail landscape this new group will be lobbying for. Retail has changed drastically and is currently very much an online business – but only because the shops are shut. That isn’t, we now hope, going to be the case much past early April.

What does re-opening really mean? What it is likely to see is a bounce-back of sorts from physical retailers as pent-up demand is initially released and as a cohort of shoppers who like to do it ‘the old way’ resolutely refuse to change their behaviour.

But this will be short-lived and they will be the minority. What is more likely to happen is that the retail landscape will become one that is almost entirely omni-channel in focus, with shoppers, used to months of online convenience, wanting to combine that with the real world stores.

This is the retail industry that the new trade body needs to lobby for. A study by Bazaarvoice points to 44% of UK shoppers saying shopping at a brick-and-mortar store is how they feel most connected to the brands they love, and almost half (47%) say what they value most about an in-store shopping experience is the ability to touch, see, and try on products.

This is off the back of many of them shopping online for nearly a year.

What may be the link between the physical and digital worlds going forward is social media. The Bazaarvoice study finds that almost a quarter (23%) of UK shoppers now use social media to discover new products to buy and, with the ability to shop on mobile at home, more than a third of global shoppers have made a purchase on social media in the past year.

When broken down by age, that number climbs to 43% of 18-24-year-olds and 47% of 25-34-year-olds. Purchasing directly through social media is more popular in the UK (33%) compared to other European countries, such as France (28%) or Germany (30%).

Facebook has been quick to tap into this, launching its Shop feature here in the UK and taking a step closer to becoming an ecommerce platform/marketplace, and TikTok is also now becoming one of the sites generating the most revenue from consumers.

Matching this with the rise of live streaming ‘shoppertainment’ – no longer just confined to China and parts of South East Asia, but increasingly becoming a place where consumers look for a new online shopping experience – and it becomes ever-clearer that the UK Digital Business Association comes along at a time when such a body is really vital to help steer the industry, but also at a time when that very industry is likely to see even these ‘new’ key players usurped by the likes of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

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