The big players in the retail world experienced mixed fortunes at the end of 2017. John Lewis and Next both recorded impressive increases in overall sales, with John Lewis seeing a 4% increase in the week leading up to Christmas compared with the same week in the previous year. However, others saw contrasting results, with the likes of M&S, House of Fraser and Debenhams seeing sales drop disappointingly.

Of course, the rise and rise of Amazon continues unabated. Pure-play retailers such as Asos are growing too. Now, more than ever, brands need to be omnichannel retailers. Therefore, it makes sense to look at how successfully these top brands are using digital.

Amount of website traffic
It stands to reason that having more website traffic gives a brand a distinct advantage over its competitors, as traffic that converts creates revenue. John Lewis and Next saw the most traffic. M&S and Debenhams still managed to achieve a decent amount of traffic, but the big loser was House of Fraser. The fact that it attracted only half of the traffic that Next achieved is likely to be a key factor behind the brand’s sales slump.

The success of paid campaign
All five brands achieved a high average when it comes to having their top 100 AdWords in the coveted top three positions. However, there were mixed results in terms of keyword investment effectiveness. Next appears to be losing ground to the competition because of its lack of investment. In contrast, the biggest amount of paid traffic is being generated by House of Fraser and Debenhams, but the latter is achieving this with around half the number of keywords. With House of Fraser paying for a much higher number of website visits than its competitors, you have another key factor that is driving the brand’s poor performance.

Use of landing pages
Landing pages are becoming increasingly important in the retail digital battleground. The more pages you have and the more thought that is put into differentiating and segmenting the target market will be a key driver of sales. Unsurprisingly, it is John Lewis that is the most effective with its landing pages. In comparison, M&S is lagging way behind with almost three times fewer landing pages than John Lewis’ 76.

Use of customer data
It is becoming increasingly crucial for retailers to listen to their customers. Only M&S boasts a full digital toolbox. The other brands are either missing on-page analytics or missing out on first-hand customer feedback. This means that retailers are missing opportunities to identify and understand where there are weaknesses in the customer experience.

John Lewis is clearly ahead of the competition when it comes to the omnichannel battle. House of Fraser is paying the price, literally, for having to pay for a much greater amount of traffic than the other brands – and achieving a disappointing online footfall overall.

In conclusion, it would seem that only John Lewis emerges with a really impressive customer experience in the top-quartile. Despite heavy investment, to the tune of £150m, M&S is hardly seeing an impressive return for its money.

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