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Overseas searches for UK retailers grow: analysis

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A fifth more potential overseas shoppers searched for UK retailers in the last three months of 2016, suggesting growing interest in this country’s retail brands, new analysis suggests.

The BRC-Google Online Retail Monitor for the fourth quarter of 2016 found that the volume of overseas customers making online searches for UK retail brands was up by 23% across all devices in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to the same time in the previous year. Search volumes on mobile devices were up by 16%.

Martijn Bertisen, retail director at Google , said: “Overseas interest in UK brands was up 23% in the last quarter of 2016. Foreign exchange rates have continued to position UK brands favourably internationally, with particularly strong growth from our European neighbours.

“Slowing tablet sales has meant that increased demand is largely coming from smartphones, with triple digit growth observed in some regions. In this mobile-first world, having a great user experience is crucial for our retailers. A recent Google study found that only five of the top 20 UK retailers’ mobile sites load in less than two seconds.”

The most popular categories that overseas shoppers looked for via mobile were apparel (+64%) and beauty (+50%). The strongest interest came from Croatia (+106%). At home, said Bertisen, searches were directed towards consumer electronics across all categories. “Driven by Black Friday and Christmas deals, UK consumers still demand the latest product releases and tech gadgets,” he said.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium , said: “Digital continued to play a pivotal role in driving sales for UK retailers in the final quarter of 2016. In December, the online penetration rate for non-food remained above 20 per cent for the fifteenth consecutive month and the channel won its greatest share of Black Friday and Christmas sales to date. It is no surprise therefore that today’s figures, which show high double digit growth of mobile search volumes across most UK brand categories, are consistent with this trend.

“At home, the top trending searches reveal that seasonal occasions and events prompted the highest volumes of browsing activity. Meanwhile, the attention of overseas consumers was drawn to the apparel and beauty brands which demonstrated the strongest growth in category searches on a mobile device, with an impressive 64 per cent and 50 per cent increase respectively.

“This quarter’s figures provide further evidence that the EU is an increasingly important market for UK retailers and that consumers from the continent are increasingly likely to be experiencing the British retail offer through their smartphones. The challenges and opportunity for UK retailers to capitalise on this rapid growth persist and British businesses remain focussed on tailoring their ecommerce offer to utilise the strength and popularity of UK retail beyond our own borders, which shows little sign of diminishing.”

Alex Marsh, managing director, Close Brothers Retail Finance, said: “2016 proved to be the tipping point for the recent rapid change in consumer shopping habits, with online retailers overtaking high street shops for the very first time. Consumers’ desire to research and purchase items online and on mobile is clearly now a staple of our retail landscape and will only increase as further technological advances are made.

“Convenience is key and giving customers what they want in the way they want is essential. This is particularly true of payment options, where customers are increasingly expecting retailers to help them spread the cost of purchases. It is critical that retailers continue to adapt to current trends and personalise the shopping experience, both online and instore, in order to compel consumers to spend with them.”

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