How does the UK fare on a global retail technology scale?

Published: 11:51:44 on the 22nd Aug 2014

Author: Matt James


Matt James, director at Eccomplished When it comes to retail tech, just how is the UK faring versus the rest of the world? Matt James, director at retail accelerator Eccomplished, gives his thoughts.

The global retail industry is being re-made with digital innovation at its heart, leading to a new wave of fast moving retail tech providers. Excitingly the UK is playing a key role in nurturing talent and invention.

We have always been a nation of shopkeepers and today, the UK is one of the world's most sophisticated and technologically advanced retail markets, having rapidly adopted digital and mobile innovation. In fact, according to a report by commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield, we have the world's most developed online retail market, followed by the US, Germany and then France. Recent analysis by IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index also confirms this through its research, which shows that around 15% of all UK retail sales are now conducted online.

So what's enabled the UK to get to this great position? Firstly the English language provides us with a great competitive advantage. More countries speak our language than any other enabling us to communicate easily. Secondly, the size of our market helps with logistical efficiencies. Other reasons include the early and widespread use of debit and credit cards and importantly our distance selling regulations and high levels of customer service ensure that consumers trust providers.

We're also pretty tech savvy and the low cost of internet services reduces the barriers to eCommerce.

With the aforementioned advantages accounted for, what's next for the UK? Well, reports by the likes of Econsultancy suggest that international eCommerce is on track to grow to £28 billion by 2020, with the UK expected to have a 60% share of that market. Bearing that in mind, we anticipate a big focus over the next 12-18 months on overseas expansion and into new markets – further aided by internet penetration growth. After all, our established best practices and high-adoption rates give our retailers a solid foundation for serving overseas customers. There's still a lot of improvement work to be done though and competition from overseas is growing.

According to eMarketer, 2014 will mark the first time that consumers in Asia-Pacific will spend more on eCommerce purchases than those in North America, making it the largest regional eCommerce market in the world. This year alone, B2C eCommerce sales are expected to reach $525.2 billion in the region, compared with $482.6 billion in North America. China alone will take in more than six of every ten dollars spent on eCommerce in Asia-Pacific this year and nearly three-quarters of regional spending by 2017. It's anticipated that beginning in 2016, China will finally overtake the US in spending and these gains, plus those in India and Indonesia, will push Asia-Pacific's growth ahead.

In the meantime, focus in UK retail needs to be given to improving retail technology – specifically in the areas of omnichannel experience delivery and the transformation of physical retail spaces. After all, retailers are sitting on huge portfolios and expensive physical space. It must work harder for them. 

We're in a fortunate position in the UK. Our ambitious and leading retailers fully recognise the critical role that technology innovation plays in driving growth and they're investing heavily to meet ambitious targets. They'll continue to drive innovation and lead on a global scale, supported by hungry and passionate start-ups and innovators.

From where I'm sitting, our geographic density, wealth of digital skills and the high level of consumer buy-in, makes the UK the ideal international starting point for innovators from around the world. We strongly believe that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

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