So, what’s the difference between the average United States and United Kingdom shopper?
Not too much, apparently. At least, that was the findings of a new study by L2, an intelligence firm that studies the performance of digital brands, which found that brands on both sides of the pond are turning to digital channels like never before to “differentiate” themselves amongst a growing market of consumers and competitors.
OK, OK, the study focused on a comparison of “activewear” shoppers in the U.S. and U.K., but one can definitely extrapolate the data and apply it to apparel retail shoppers in the U.S. and U.K. in general, or U.S. and U.K. consumer habits when it comes to online retailing in general.
“As activewear brands increasingly turn to digital channels to differentiate themselves amidst a growing demand for ‘athleisure’ and increasingly competitive markets in both the United States and United Kingdom, brands are forced to provide a relevant, localized experience, while also leveraging digital scale across markets to provide a consistent brand image,” according to the report.
Now, here’s where things get interesting.
Caitlin Aylward, a senior researcher at L2 and one of the authors of the report, believes that there really isn’t much difference in the purchasing habits of U.S. and U.K. consumers, and the data that L2 looked at pretty much supported this hypothesis (although you have to adjust the U.K. numbers lower because its population is much lower than America’s).
But there was a big difference in how brands and retailers marketed to consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. across digital channels.
“The two markets do differ in terms of localized brand efforts, with discrepancies emerging most prominently in email, search and omnichannel performance — all of which are weaker points for the industry as a whole,” according to the report.
Aylward said that, even though most brands have a “standardized site” across both countries, most U.K. sites typically lag behind their U.S. counterparts in terms of features, such as product pages or the checkout process.
Interestingly, however, Aylward observed that most brands and retailers tended to roll out “experimental” changes to their websites and other digital channels in the U.S. first, and eventually, they would migrate over to the U.K. (but sometimes not for quite some time).
However, this “lag” does not seem to deter U.K. consumers, as Aylward notes that their online shopping habits are different from their U.S. counterparts.
To further illustrate this difference, Aylward noted that U.K. brands only beat most U.S. brands in “click-and-collect” date collection when consumers register on their omnichannel, but all other aspects of the omnichannel experience are lacking in the U.K. compared to the U.S.
“In the U.K., click-and-collect has been around for much longer,” Aylward said. “So, I think that has set a precedent for click-and-collect in the U.K.”
However, U.K. brands are doing far less with the data they actually collect from consumers. The study found that only 13 percent of U.K. brands collected segmentation data, compared to half of U.S. brands. U.K. brands also tend to send fewer welcome emails, abandoned cart email reminders or emails tailored to a consumer’s browsing history, which Aylward said indicates a “widespread underutilization of customer data” among U.K. brands.
Still, there is no discernible dropoff in online shopping figures between U.S. and U.K. consumers, at least when it comes to activewear apparel, suggesting that U.K. consumers are more accustomed to shopping online and don’t need to be poked, prodded and reminded to purchase as often as their U.S. counterparts.
But when U.K. brands “invested” in strong omnichannels that adhered to what the traditional U.S. consumer expects from a digital shopping experience, they tended to see greater growth.
“One of the biggest winners in the U.K. compared to the U.S. is Jack Wolfskin due to its direct-to-consumer eCommerce-enabled platform and, subsequently, all the positive downstream benefits, including consumer accounts and the ability to collect and utilize consumer data,” according to the report. “In addition to providing consistent click-and-collect options in both markets, Sweaty Betty is one of the few brands to invest in content across both its sites, including shoppable lookbooks, product videos and frequently updated blog content.”
By making these U.S.-style investments in its U.K. omnichannel shopping experience, Jack Wolfskin saw a 42 percent rise in its digital IQ among U.K. consumers, while Sweaty Betty’s digital IQ rose by 40 percent.
U.S. brands that did not make similar “investments” in their U.K. omnichannels, like L.L.Bean or Sperry Top-Sider, saw similar dips in their digital IQ among British consumers.
“L.L.Bean’s omnichannel offerings are nonexistent in the U.K., while its reduced fulfillment offerings and overseas focus result in diminished ownership of category keywords,” according to the report. “Sperry Top-Sider’s U.K. site is missing features, including product customization, and has also experienced a dropoff in site traffic and earned media mentions, resulting in diminished brand equity.”
L.L.Bean saw its digital IQ among U.K. consumers drop by 50 percent due to the lag in its digital shopping experience for consumers in the U.K., while Sperry Top-Sider saw a 40 percent digital IQ dip, suggesting that U.K. consumers want the same bells and whistles out of their online shopping experience as us Yanks do.
So, brands and retailers would be wise not to skimp on those features if they hope to succeed in the U.K. market. U.K. brands that play by the omnichannel “rules” in the U.S. also tend to have better success among U.S. consumers.