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Online recommendations fulfilling shop assistant role, RX UK G1K finds


The newly published RetailX UK Growth 1000 (G1K) 2023 report has looked at how growing retailers and D2C brands are standing out by presenting all relevant products to interested shoppers.

For online retailers, recommendations now fulfil the place that the shop assistant used to. The aim is the same – to inform shoppers of a wider range of products in the hope that they will make a purchase. 

These are among the metrics considered by RetailX research in the Product Value Chain, which explores how retail businesses ensure that they sell products profitably – thus adding value to their bottom line. It looks at the tools that traders use to ensure that shoppers see as much of their range as possible and check the availability of items they want to buy. It also assesses whether they offer added value product services such as rental or repair. 

When retailers show as much of their range as possible, they make it more likely that they will sell through more of their lines – thus ensuring that they can sell an item at a profit, rather than selling it off later at a discount. Banner advertising, promotions and recommendations are all useful in drawing attention to products.

Almost all Growth 1000 retailers (99%) use banner advertising on their websites to flag up products, while 82% show promotions or discounts on their websites that encourage shoppers to buy a particular item. Such promotions matter to UK shoppers, research suggests. RetailX’s August 2023 ConsumerX research found that cheaper prices are a key reason for 39.6% of 249 shoppers to go online to buy, while 34.5% are looking for good offers. 

Retailers can add further value when they help customers extend the life of their products or give them access to products in different ways. 7.5% offer a product mending or repair scheme, while 1.4% show mending instructions for their products. A similarly small number (3.8%), make their products available to rent. 

Recommendations strategies
Recommendations are very useful in showing website visitors alternative products to the one that they are looking at. That means that if a customer doesn’t want the item they are looking at, they can also consider others from the same range, as well as items that might compliment what they’re looking at. This approach has a real influence on customer opinions, according to ConsumerX research. It found that 32.6% of 969 online shoppers questioned said that they found retailer or brand recommendations either very or significantly influential, while 40.8% found them slightly influential. 

Given that retailer recommendations can influence purchase decisions, what recommendation strategies do Growth 1000 traders use? Most often, they recommend products that are similar (81%) to the one being viewed. That’s a nine percentage point (pp) increase over a year earlier. 

The graphic shows how use of this type of recommendation has changed over time on Growth 1000 websites. It’s notable that while the tactic of recommending similar products has long been used by the majority – 66% of a subset researched every year for five years did so in August 2019 – use has grown slowly since then before reaching a new higher level of 78.3% in February 2023. In terms of sector, retailers and brands selling hobby supplies and products are the most likely to show recommendations for similar products (90%), followed by homewares (88%), DIY traders (88%) and those selling flowers and gifts (88%).

Fewer recommend complementary products (38%) that go with the item being viewed – a shirt to go with trousers, for example, or batteries for a toy. This tactic is most often used by fashion brands and retailers (49%), by multi-sector retailers (45%) and by homewares retailers (40%). Only 31% of hobby retailers and 37% of DIY retailers take this approach, with both being more likely to recommend similar alternatives. 

Upselling is the least-common recommendation strategy, with 37% suggesting products that are more expensive than the one being viewed. Just 23% of retailers enable shoppers to check whether an item is in stock in their local store.

How Ribble Cycles uses recommendations
Premium bike brand Ribble Cycles takes a range of measures to ensure that shoppers are thoroughly informed about the products they are viewing before they buy. Different models are explained thoroughly on its product pages, from the measurements for different sizes to information on the different components used.

The brand’s website offers a live video connection to the store so that shoppers can ask questions and see products demonstrated for themselves – something that will be particularly important when visitors are considering buying relatively expensive products. Product videos are also available to view on the site, while the website user can see reminders of recently viewed products. 

Reviews and product questions are shared for each product, while recommendations of ‘related products’ – generally complementary products – are shared on the product accessories pages. Shoppers can also sign up to the Ribble Cycles newsletter for the latest product news.

This feature was authored by Chloe Rigby and features in the RetailX UK Growth 1000 (G1K) 2023 report. Download the full report here, it is designed as a useful tool both for those that have sold online confidently for some time, and for those that are now working to improve the way they sell online. This year’s report zooms in on – and lists the 1,000 companies that follow the RetailX UK Top500 (published in February 2023).

These are businesses that are not (yet) at the size of the largest retailers and brands, but they play an important role in the UK economy and are, despite challenges, taking a highly agile and resilient approach to selling online and across channels.

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