The e-commerce market in the UK: an interview with IMRG


The United Kingdom is one of the leading digital markets in the Western world. Cifnews spoke with IMRG, UK e-commerce association, to better understand the British e-commerce market.


What are the main figures, and what are the most popular channels for e-commerce? 

Almost everyone in the UK shops online. In 2017, 77% of polled Britons made purchases online, which means around 45 million people. UK shoppers are comfortable using brand websites, multi-brand platforms or online markets, depends on what is convenient for their requirement. Using a last-click attribution model, UK retailers make over 50% of their revenue from traffic that either goes direct to site (so the URL is typed into the browser) or referred through natural (as in ‘unpaid’) search; a further 22% comes through paid ads on platforms such as Google or Facebook.

How about the advertising activity to promote an online store? What are at the moment the best digital and social media channels to invest on?

The two most popular platforms by some distance are Google and Facebook, they have a very high penetration in the UK. Other social platforms worthy of note are Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. Retargeting is also common.

Are people accustomed with buying products from abroad?

Yes, people are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of purchasing cross-border. That said, retail in the UK already offers a lot of choice as it is a major and very well-established pastime, so they are unlikely to look at retailers in other markets without having a specific reason to do so – perhaps because they are offering something unique or a bit different from that available locally.

We all know that Chinese users are now almost completely expecting an online store to be fully optimized for mobile, if not mobile-native. How is the general situation in the UK market? Are there still companies or industries that are not up to date, in your opinion?

The majority of traffic and sales are made through smartphones and tablets, any retail sites not optimised for mobile are not likely to succeed. There are however instances where this is less of an issue; some retail propositions have not gone particularly digital as they haven’t made the use-case yet; Primark, which sells very low-price products, is a good example of that – a very successful retailer that doesn’t sell online (yet).

For the last question we want to have a more contextual angle: what is, in your opinion, the perception of Made in China at the moment? What would a Chinese brand need do in order to succeed in the UK e-commerce market today?

In reality, a good proportion of products sold in the UK are manufactured in China, so UK shoppers are already well used to that being the case. For a Chinese retail brand to successfully enter the UK market, they would need to research and find potential gaps in the market; just trying to target a demographic with products that are broadly available already is likely to fail as many demographics are already catered for; offering something unique and a bit different may be the way.


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