UK Department Stores - Digital Marketing Benchmark Report, Q4 2023

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The Q4 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 Q4 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 Q4 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 Store - 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; DepartmentStores W&L Dec23

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 the last report, Debenhams returned 636 4xx errors. This quarter, this department store flagged 12 4xx errors, showing its made amendments to many broken links. The store that’s returned the most 4xx errors this quarter is Beales Department Stores, with a total of 890 — three times the amount from the last report. Harrods also has a high number of 3xx errors (1,048).

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.

In the previous report, site speed performance ranged from 28 to 11. In this quarter, the site speed ranges from 44 and 18, showing an improvement. Liberty has the lowest score, and it should look to increase its backlinks from high authoritative sites, like Marks and Spencer has.

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 last quarter, the DA rating was between 83 and 30. John Lewis (83) and Marks and Spencer (82) hold the top spots, and Beales Department Stores continues with the lowest DA. This UK department store should assess its mobile speed score (as it currently lies in the bottom five for this category), which will help to increase its DA for the next 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.

As to be expected, all UK department stores saw a fall in traffic YoY, with Beales Department Stores (a loss of 50%) and Harvey Nichols (a loss of 41%) seeing the biggest drops in traffic.

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 outrank the other department stores for the total number of Universal Search results. It’s secured most of its searches with ‘Images’, with a total of 933,400. Marks and Spencer outranks John Lewis with ‘Knowledge Panel’, ‘People Also Ask’, ‘Local Pack’, and ‘Featured Snippet’, demonstrating that it has a solid SERP strategy.

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 continues to score the lowest for total longtail keywords. Liberty is in the bottom four for the total number of longtail keywords (positioned 6/12 for the top three results), showing that it’s keyword strategy is working better than other department stores.

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 samples of House of Fraser’s Facebook ads. This department store uses the same text across all three ads, along with different images for each post with branding. It could incorporate product tags for more efficient conversions.

Department Store - FACEBOOK House of Fraser

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.

Downtown saw the highest total engagements (98,126). This is a huge increase from the previous quarter, where Downtown saw 261 total engagements, suggesting that it’s improved its social media strategy through utilising ads or incorporating more images.

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 the last report, Liberty returned 205 alerts, which it’s increased to 245 in this quarter. After examining the website, these alerts are mostly due to small text and redundant links. Harvey Nichols has flagged for 33 contrast errors (from 0 in the previous quarter), which it needs to address before the next quarter to enhance the customer experience.


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.

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