Overseas shoppers boost UK retail sales

UK retail sales in the fourth quarter were boosted by brand appeal with more overseas customers buying online.

According to the BRC-Google Online Retail Monitor, the volume of overseas customers searching for UK retailers increased by 23 per cent in Q4 2016, compared with the same quarter a year ago.

The strongest demand for UK retailers was seen in Croatia, with a 106 per cent increase on mobile devices in Q4.

In the UK, search volumes on mobile devices increased 16 per cent, compared with the same period in 2015.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson 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 15th 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 focused on tailoring their e-commerce offer to utilise the strength and popularity of UK retail beyond our own borders, which shows little sign of diminishing.”

Martijn Bertisen, retail director at Google, added: “Overseas interest in UK brands was up 23 per cent 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.

“At home, top category searches have trended towards consumer electronics across all categories. Driven by Black Friday and Christmas deals, UK consumers still demand the latest product releases and tech gadgets.”

Alex Marsh, managing director of Close Brothers Retail Finance, commented on the findings: “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 in-store, in order to compel consumers to spend with them.”