UK Department Stores - Digital Marketing Benchmark Report, Q3 2023

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The Q3 2023 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 Q3 2023 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 Store Brand 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 Q3 report, click here. To get a copy of the full report and the key takeaways, please complete the enquiry form or schedule a call. Digital Benchmark Report - Department Stores - Q3 2023 - Cover

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.

Debenhams is the least technically compliant department store, returning 636 4xx errors in our crawls. For a department store which is now solely online, this should be cause for concern, as their online experience must outrun those of their competitors. Ten of the eleven remaining department stores returned 61 or fewer 4xx error codes, indicating a strongly-performing sector (in spite of large volumes of changing stock). 

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.

Mobile page speed is a tight race among department stores, with eleven of our twelve retail brands scoring between 23 and 28. Harvey Nichols, however, is lagging behind with a mobile page speed score of 11. While Harvey Nichols has the most need to improve, with mobile page speed being scored out of 100, each of our department stores must review how they can improve on their mobile page experience.

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. DAs for department stores are typically very high, with John Lewis and Marks and Spencer sharing the top spot, with scores of 83. Beales Department Stores is the lowest-performing brand when it comes to DA, with a score of 33. As discussed, Beales can look to its full range of products to identify areas that bring a strong opportunity to build backlinks, and win referral traffic.

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.

As expected, most department stores have seen falls in traffic year on year, the biggest loss coming from Selfridges which has seen organic sessions drop by 35%. Interestingly, the two smaller brands in our list, Beales and our client Downtown, are the only two brands seeing improvements in their yearly organic traffic, with strong increases of 28% and 38% respectively.

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.

'Image' is the widest-used Universal Search result for department stores, with all brands making use of the opportunity. John Lewis has not only secured the most 'image' results, with 860,500 results, but has also made the most appearances across Universal Search as a whole.

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.

Beales Department Stores is ranking for very few longtail keywords overall, making only 27 appearances in the crucial, top three positions. With ten product categories in its site navigation alone, Beales holds a great deal of potential to improve their longtail keyword rankings and win high purchase intent traffic.

Facebook Adverts

With the number of Facebook users in the United Kingdom (UK) forecast to hit over 42 million users by 2022, it is not surprising that brands 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 in 2019. Facebook ads are an opportunity to sell the luxury shopping experience many department stores offer, and care should be taken to ensure branding is eye-catching and fits natively into their intended audience's feeds.

We've included examples from Liberty below. Liberty has used video creative to engage an increasingly video-first audience, with a focus on the brand's signature fabrics. Liberty has also used a video interview with its Head of Beauty Buying - a high-quality piece of content that will entertain as well as inform. Liberty may want to experiment with vertical video formats, that will sit natively within Meta's 'Reels' content and can be repurposed for TikTok.

Liberty London Facebook Ads August 2023

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.

Meta is the preferred platform for nearly all of our department stores. Marks and Spencer boast the largest organic following, with 5.8m Facebook likes and 2m Instagram followers. This represents a significant pool of social media users who are more likely to see and engage with organic content, reducing any reliance on paid social ads.

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. 

The levels of accessibility errors and alerts vary across all twelve department stores. Liberty has returned the highest volume of accessibility alerts, with a total of 205. Looking closely, many of these are due to redundant links and title text, which may cause challenges to any shoppers using a screen reader to access the site. 138 instances of very small text will also make it very difficult for users to engage with calls to action and links.


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 Aug23


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 Emilio Georgiou on Unsplash

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