The UK serves as a lucrative battleground for fashion brands, given the fact that four in five Britons make purchases online, with over 40% spending an average of £250 every three months. It’s also a competitive battleground with click-and-mortar stores and online-only retailers, all fighting for customer share.
This post looks at visitation and engagement metrics for the top players in the space, as well as the different marketing strategies that can be utilized to acquire online shoppers in the UK.
- Asos, Next, and Debenhams dominant the UK apparel market; collectively they are responsible for 23% of traffic
- While Asos and Debenhams saw YoY declines of -23% and -7%, Next has slightly increased its market share by 2%
- Next is also most effective at keeping audiences on its site with an average of 25M monthly unique visitors and 30 pages per visit
- H&M and Debenhams, meanwhile, are optimizing content for user intent by focusing on non-branded search terms like ‘party dresses’ and ‘aviator jacket’
UK Fashion Websites – A Declining Market, Fueled by Mobile
Over the last 12 months, traffic to the top websites in the UK’s online apparel category decreased by an average of 2%, YoY. This decline was most visible on desktop, which was previously responsible for one out of four visits; last year, there were 1B desktop visits, and this year there were 854M (-16%). Meanwhile, mobile visits decreased from 2.4B to 2.3B (-4%). Overall, most of the decline in traffic occurred during the holiday season, with a -6% YoY decrease in November and -4% in December. However, traffic remained relatively the same throughout the rest of the year.
Half of the industry’s market share is held by leading British retailers, with 13 sites responsible for 52 percent of traffic in the UK. Next, Asos and Debenhams are the most prominent clothing stores with a collective traffic share of 23%, separating them from the rest of the pack. Boohoo ranks fourth with 4% of traffic, followed by H&M and New Look, which both bring in about 3.5%.
Different Trends for Different Websites
Some of these players lost the most traffic this year. Debenhams.com‘s traffic volumes dipped from an average of 22M visits a month to 17M (a decrease of 23%). Asos.com and hm.com also experienced YoY declines of -7% and -14%, slowing down to an average of 20M and 9M monthly visits. In comparison, traffic increased for online-only shops boohoo.com and next.co.uk by 9% and 2% – suggesting they are effectively drawing the attention away from high street retailers.
But Gaining Traffic Isn’t Everything
The average Brit spends 16 hours a week researching things to buy online, meaning there is a lot of browsing through fashion websites and fashion blogs before actual purchases are made. To understand who keeps audiences most engaged and onsite, we analyzed key engagement metrics. We discovered that Next does the best job of keeping audiences engaged, with an average of over 30 pages viewed per visit throughout the last year – nearly triple the competition.
The bricks-and-clicks retailer also had a high number of unique visitors and the second-lowest bounce rate after Asos. In terms of time spent, all the websites in the set enjoy a relatively long session duration – five and a half minutes on average – which is further indication that their content is relevant to what people are searching for.
Shoppers Turn to Asos for Price Comparisons
Cross visitation is another way to uncover if a website is a long-term fad or just a passing fashion. As seen below, Asos is the leading comparison website in the set, overshadowing Next’s best-in-class engagement metrics. 1 in 3 Boohoo and H&M shoppers compare prices on Asos on the same day. For Debenham and Next, that ratio is 1 in 6. Interestingly, the audience overlap for Debenhams and Next is also relatively high, with 19% of debenhams.com visitors visiting next.co.uk and 14% vice versa.
Direct and Organic Search Are the Industry’s Main Channels
It seems that the top players have different marketing strategies: Asos and Debenhams focus on direct traffic at the expense of organic search, while Next and H&M get more than half of their traffic through organic search. Social drives relatively high volumes for Boohoo (4%), which could explain its growth in traffic, yet the site under-indexes in paid search, when compared to the industry’s average of 6%. Surprisingly, referrals do not play a valuable source of traffic for any of these sites.
The Value of Branded Search
While Next receives a low volume of traffic from organic search, it makes up for it with a 58% share of visits generated from branded keywords, like ‘next sale‘ and ‘next home‘ – hinting that its customer loyalty is the strongest. H&M and Debenhams, meanwhile, are driving most of their traffic via organic non-branded search terms such as ‘party dresses‘ and ‘aviator jacket.’
Non-branded Keywords Can Create Huge Opportunities
Looking at highly competitive search terms (i.e., keywords that these sites share between 20 to 60 percent overlap) reveals that consumers are primarily looking for event-related dresses such as ‘prom dresses‘ and ‘bridesmaid dresses‘ with search volume averaging at 25K and 16K per month. Next leads the set with 30% of the total competitive traffic share, followed by Asos and Debenhams, both get 21%. Other keywords that are helping retailers drive traffic include seasonal items like ‘dungarees,’ ‘blazer,’ and ‘cardigan.’
Investing in Organic Search Is Paying Off
Next doesn’t only drive volumes but also effectiveness, converting at 6.2% for organic search traffic. This indicates that unbranded search converts effectively if investments are made on the right products where consumer demand lies. H&M also succeeds in turning organic search into paying customers with a CVR of 4.2%. However, in terms of overall traffic, it still comes behind Asos, which has a conversion rate of 5%.
Apparel is a competitive marketplace in the UK, with a handful of retailers competing aggressively for consumers’ shifting wardrobe trends. Brand awareness is the primary reason behind Asos and Next’s dominance. Yet, these fast-fashion and online-only stores are nonetheless seeing increased competition from players such as H&M and Debenhams, who have grown market share and seen digital success by focusing on non-branded organic search opportunities.
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* This blog post was co-written with Maria Pashi, Similarweb’s industry consultant for retail and CPG.
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