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UK winners and losers in digital tech

The UK's retail and telecoms companies are among the best in the world at digital technology, but a survey of digital leaders shows there is still room for improvement for many UK firms

The UK has the world’s third largest e-commerce market and is under pressure to maintain its competitive position. 

While UK firms are progressively investing in digital technology, the rapid expansion and introduction of new technologies and innovation results in a constantly changing and challenging landscape.

To remain competitive, and retain consumer loyalty, companies need to ensure they are ahead of their competitors, both nationally and internationally. 

A study of digital leaders worldwide released in November 2018 revealed that there are industries and companies in the UK that excel in digital maturity, and some industries which are underperforming.

The digital leaders study by management and technology consulting firm BearingPoint assessed more than 70 companies across 10 industries, and identified the leading digital players in the UK.

The UK scored in the middle of the rankings – no clear digital leader, but no failure either.

The research scored companies and industries using six digital dimensions – digital marketing, digital product experience, e-commerce, e-customer relationship management, mobile and social media – to measure their digital maturity.

Telecoms and retail are digital leaders in UK 

The telecoms industry was rated as the leading industry in the UK, closely followed by retail. Both industries are extremely consumer focused and rely on their digital channels to retain – and convert – customers.

Telecoms companies demonstrated consistency in their scoring, with the UK operations of EE, O2, Vodafone and Virgin at similar levels in their digital maturity. This is testament to the global nature of these businesses, allowing for the transfer of digital tools and know-how. 

Leading retailers dominated the company rankings. However, there was a wide range, with companies such as Amazon and Asos clearly leading the way in digital maturity among retailers, and others featuring at the lower end of the rankings.

Getting the balance right

UK companies excelled in digital product experience, a fundamental element of sales and service. High scores here show that UK companies understand the needs of their consumers, and are providing customers with detailed, visual information to facilitate online sales.

However, companies need to balance detail and simplicity – too much information and a consumer will be overwhelmed, too little and they won’t have the confidence to purchase. Companies which scored particularly well in this area were Vodafone, Aldi and Argos.

UK firms need to invest more in social media

The area where UK companies need to invest the most is in their use of social media. High-scoring companies such as (ranking top), Missguided and Asos harnessed their social media channels to drive engagement and brand awareness.

Other areas of focus identified in the study for UK companies to become digital leaders in customer interaction included:

  • Become better at creating awareness among prospective customers and attracting them to their digital channels – 31% of companies were barely visible in organic search engine results, with 63% not visible in paid search engine results relevant to their business.
  • There is still huge potential for consumer-focused companies to up-sell and cross-sell on their websites – 58% of companies do not offer related products or more expensive options at the checkout stage.
  • Harness the opportunity to build customer relationships through digital channels – by developing the customer feedback process, loyalty programmes and email marketing.

UK companies are among world leaders in digitisation

On an international stage, the UK fared well against its peers. We replicated the study across eight different countries, 25 industries and more than 590 companies.

UK companies achieved higher scores within the top 10 range than their international counterparts, exceeding the average scores of all European countries except Germany. 

However, while this shows UK firms, as a group, have made the right tactical digital investments, the UK’s overall calibre is let down by companies below the top 10 ranking.

This is important. The UK may demonstrate a good level of digital maturity, but to continue to be one of the world’s leading players, there are areas of opportunity for companies, and the industries that they operate within, to ensure they are able to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape as effectively as possible.

Tony Farnfield is a partner at management and technology consultancy BearingPoint.

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