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Sales via smartphones will dominate Christmas, says Google

Smartphones will overtake desktops as the shopping method of choice by Christmas, according to Google head of UK retail Martijn Bertisen.

Speaking at the British Independent Retailers Association conference in Cirencester in Gloucestershire last week, Bertisen said Google data suggested searches on smartphones would surpass those made from desktop computers by the festive season.

Currently around 30% of searches take place on mobiles, although some retailers such as Shop Direct have already reached the tipping point.

“Connectivity has bred a new type of consumer,” Bertisen said. “They want instant gratification. Customers now expect to be in a dialogue with you. They want to be able to talk to you, and they want you to talk to them.”

Around 14% of UK online sales come from overseas, making up £4bn of sales. Google expects that by 2020, 40% of UK ecommerce sales will come from overseas consumers – and Bertisen said UK retailers should not underestimate this potential, as it will reach an estimated £28bn by the end of the decade. Sales from western Europe in particular are expected to soar to £9.8bn in 2020 from £1.5bn in 2012.

Independent retailers in particular could benefit, he added, with Google’s figures showing that small- and medium-sized companies currently receive nearly half of their online searches from overseas.

Smaller retailers and independents can be especially successful using online media to push overseas sales, he said, pointing out that while international brand Burberry has 104,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel, there is a trend of local, independent fashion bloggers accumulating much higher numbers – for example, London video blogger Shirley B Eniang has 361,621 subscribers on her YouTube channel and some 6 million views of her videos showcasing high street fashion and trends. “Broadcasting and publishing barriers have been removed,” Bertisen said.

However, he acknowledged that 88% of UK sales still take place on the high street, saying multichannel was “absolutely the way forward, and that includes shops”.

Technology – such as GPS and online video content – can be used to drive customers into stores. As an example, Bertisen highlighted Guatemalan shoe store Meat Pack, which used GPS to push discounts through to registered customers whenever they entered similar footwear stores nearby. The promotion stole some 600 customers from rival stores. “Digital allows you to test and learn and move at pace,” he said.

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