UK Department Stores - Digital Marketing Benchmark Report, Q2 2024

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The Q2 2024 benchmarking report for UK department stores has just been published. Learn how the top 12 UK department stores perform across the digital space.

The latest Q2 2024 benchmarking report for UK department stores has just been published. It covers the 12 largest department stores in the UK, including Debenhams, Fenwick, Harrods, Selfridges, John Lewis & Partners, BHS, House of Fraser, Harvey Nichols, Beales Department Stores, Downtown, Marks and Spencer, and Liberty.

Department Stores - LOGOS

The research gives an inside track on who is winning the biggest share of voice online and quantifies the gaps, risks and missed opportunities for other department stores to win brand exposure, drive online views, and increase in-store footfall (where relevant). The report highlights quick wins that will improve enquiries from your online strategy and identifies the barriers that may be reducing your site’s ability to optimise digital performance.

To see a preview and contents page of the Q2 report, click here. To get a copy of the full report and the key takeaways, please complete the enquiry form or schedule a call. Department Stores - COVER


For a glance into just six of the metrics we evaluated these top 12 department stores on, check out our quick-look table below; Department Stores W&L Apr24

Continue reading for further detail on this quarter's best and poorest-performing UK department stores or request a copy of the report for the full review.

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What The Industry Research Report Covers

The 70+ pages of research benchmarks each retailer based on 50+ metrics and indicators of successful digital strategy, including organic visibility, domain authority, paid media ads, conversion performance, technical performance, site speed, universal search, content, social ads, accessibility, and mobile performance.  

Driving Optimal ROAS from Paid Media Channels

Some of the leading players in the space are high spenders on paid media channels such as Google, Bing and Facebook - but have a poor or sub-optimal conversion improvement strategy. Without an optimised, sophisticated conversion strategy that maximises the conversion rate, the return on investment is unsustainable or will underperform. Scaling spend on paid media is not achievable unless the conversion rate delivers optimal performance in the sector. Some in the space have paid media spend levels from £30k+ per month but dedicate minimal resources and budgets to conversion testing.  Given the cost per clicks on ad networks will continue to rise, we recommend spending at least 10% of your paid media budget on ongoing conversion optimisation testing schedules to ensure your paid media ROI maintains long-term viability, competitive advantage, and sustainability.

Technical Website Compliance

Savvy digital marketers know that having a technically sound website is an essential component of a successful fully integrated digital strategy - plus a site capable of maximising conversion performance. Department stores, which will be managing a large and ever-changing range of stock, will want to ensure their sites remain technically compliant and that users are not being driven down dead ends through broken links.

In our last report, Harrods flagged 890 4xx errors, and it’s reduced this to 232 in Q2 2024. Currently, the department store with the most 4xx errors is now Beales Department Stores, with 382 4xx errors. It’s important that department stores assess their linking structure to ensure they don’t send customers down dead ends.

Site Speed & Conversion Rate Performance

When 62% of consumers are less likely to convert if they have a negative mobile site experience, ensuring that your site is quick and easy to load will see a significant improvement on your overall conversion rates. With mobile browsers accounting for 72.9% of all e-commerce sales in 2021, department stores should ensure their online user experience matches the high levels of customer service shoppers would expect from an up-market retail store.

For Q2 2024, the mobile site speed ranged between 59 and 17, with only Harvey Nichols scoring above the recommended 50%. However, the department store to watch is Marks and Spencer. Upon closer inspection, its website contains a large video on the home page along with large imagery, which will negatively impact its site speed.

Building Competitive Advantage with Domain Authority

Domain authority (DA) is an essential metric for measuring the effectiveness of SEO performance and helps create a reliable overall gauge of how effective your site is at achieving organic traffic, i.e. ‘free’ traffic that isn’t gained through sponsored ads. Department stores have an excellent opportunity to build links, as they can look to collaborate with influencers & publications and develop eye-catching PR campaigns across their full range of products - enabling them to work across fashion, gifting, homeware, beauty, and any other niches their products fit into!

A ‘good’ DA really comes down to how your competitors are performing, however, it’s generally considered average between 40 and 50, good between 50 and 60, and excellent above 60. The DA range for this quarter was between 82 and 29, with only two brands reporting a score below the recommended 40 figure. Marks and Spencer flagged the highest DA rating, and it also had the most backlinks — a strategy that can boost a website’s DA rating. On the other hand, Beales Department Stores reported the lowest DA score and also had the fewest backlinks over the quarter.

Organic Performance – Mobile & Desktop

A strong organic performance is strategically important as it ensures your site ranks above competitors for core, transactional keywords. When 93% of your customers won’t go past the first page of Google, your absence or lack of targeting for essential keywords will cost you conversions. Luxury items and treats are likely to see falls in consumer interest due to the cost of living crisis. Department stores, therefore, will be seeing the impact of many consumers turning to cheaper alternatives, as opposed to opting for luxury shopping experiences.

Organic traffic was higher for those using a desktop, and the brands can optimise their website for mobile users by adopting a responsive design. This means that the site presents all information clearly, no matter the user’s screen size.

Universal Search Opportunity

Google Universal Search Results are an evolving opportunity to make your pages visible on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Universal results often appear before traditional listings and are eye-catching for users. Universal search results refer to rankings on a SERP that are not the traditional ‘blue line’ Google link, and a retailer can appear for universal search results without being strong in standard rankings. For department stores with multiple branches, they'll potentially want to make use of 'local pack' results, while 'reviews' are a strong option for any retail store selling a variety of products. 'People also ask' and 'FAQ' appearances can also be useful, to capture traffic and interest from shoppers looking for specific lines and products.

John Lewis continues to rank the highest for the most Universal Search results, with a total of 1,523,153. Most of these appearances came from the ‘image’ category, which is an effective SEO strategy, given that the department stores’ websites are image-dominant.

The Longtail Keyword Opportunity

Longtail keywords are often considered high intent and potentially more likely to convert as a searcher is being more specific. Optimising for longtail keywords also puts your content strategy in a strong position to rank for new search terms as they enter Google’s index. Department stores have a near-infinite potential to rank for longtail keywords, as shoppers will be looking for specific items across their full product line. To maximise appearances, department stores should ensure on-page copy includes specifications such as sizing, colour, pattern, texture, and even delivery options.

Marks and Spencer saw the most longtail keyword appearances for positions 3, though not for 4–10, where John Lewis saw the most appearances for this position. Reporting high in positions 4–10 is one of the most fastest and most effective ways to increase rankings for positions 3.

Facebook Adverts

With the number of Facebook users in the United Kingdom (UK) hitting over 44 million users in 2023, it is not surprising that companies have jumped at the opportunity to advertise on the social media platform. Facebook’s UK digital advertising revenue has been estimated to have breached 2.6b GB pounds in 2019.

We’ve included three examples of Fenwick’s sponsored Facebook posts. This department store included two vertical videos and one image carousel, suggesting that it’s testing how media type can affect conversions and engagement.

Department Stores - Facebook

Top Social Shares & Content

When it comes to social media and on-site content strategies, it is important to release content that has a longer shelf life. An article is considered 'evergreen' if it has maintained its relevancy to an audience for a long period of time. It's great for your engagement, but great for Google too, who will recognise content which achieves traffic over a long period of time. As discussed, department stores have a wealth of product lines to draw upon for encouraging social sharing, with fashion, beauty, and homeware providing a particularly strong opportunity to create shareable social content.

Marks and Spencer reported the most Facebook Likes (5.7 million) and Instagram followers (2.1 million). However, Downtown saw the highest total engagement, which is interesting given that it had the least number of Facebook Likes in the previous quarter.

Website Readability & Accessibility

About 20% of people in the UK have a disability – 2 million of which are people living with sight loss. In addition, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some degree of colour vision deficiency. All customers are entitled to a convenient, luxury shopping experience, and department stores should take great care to ensure customers with vision deficiencies are not placed at a disadvantage when using their sites. 

In our last audit, Liberty returned 245 accessibility alerts. In this quarter, this department store has slightly reduced this figure to 212, though it should aim to lower this amount even further to affect negatively impacting those using a screen reader. However, Beales Department Stores is the one to watch, as it flagged 330 alerts, with 210 of these alerts due to redundant links.


To get a copy of the full report, please complete the enquiry form. If you want to talk to us about accelerating your digital performance, please call us on 01543 410014 or schedule a call with Mike Movassaghi.

Photo by Carl Raw on Unsplash

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