Is Birmingham Really as Digital as They Say?

Digital Birmingham

In a series of articles we look at major tech cities across the UK and find out how digital their retailers are. In cities full of talented digital people we expected to see a large proportion of their retailers trading online. This report looks at how digital Birmingham is.

Birmingham has the largest GDP and population outside of London[1] and is poised to become a global centre for digital technology. The creative and digital media sector generates more than £890m for the local economy[2]. Last year Birmingham successfully applied for a European Regional Development fund of £2.3 million to support Digital Connectivity across the city[3].

The websites of retail businesses in and around Birmingham were analysed to find out how well they are engaging with digital. Using data from Market Location, the analysis looked at whether retailers have websites that offer e-commerce functionality, whether the website was designed to be viewed on mobile devices and how often the website has been shared on social media.

Firstly the websites were reviewed to see how many of them offered e-commerce functionality to allow their users to make purchases through the site.

Digital Birmingham

Around 20% of the sites that were analysed had e-commerce functionality with 80% only selling in their shops or over the phone. This means there is a big opportunity for a lot of Birmingham-based retailers to reach out to a wider customer base through their website. In fact, small businesses are driving growth faster than big name chains with December 2013 showing a 11.8% increase in online sales[4].

Carpet and rug retailer Royal Carpets sell a range of different flooring through their excellent e-commerce site. Royal Carpets have realised that it is not enough just to have the functionality to be able to sell products online, their site enables users to search by colour, décor, room or brand to find the ideal flooring for your home.

The retailer websites were then analysed to see if they were designed responsively so that they work on mobile and tablet devices. This test also looked at whether the retailers had a dedicated mobile website.

Digital Birmingham

22% of Birmingham retailer sites in our study are responsive or purpose built for mobile devices. The rise in mobile usage looks set to continue. The younger generation has already taken to using tablets with 17% of children under 8 using a mobile device every day[5]! Mobile e-commerce is also rising as people have less security concerns about ordering goods on their mobiles.

The People Shop is a lifestyle store run by design duo Allison and Christian Sadler offering clothes and accessories made by themselves and by other independent designer makers. The site responds well to a range of mobile devices giving users easy to use menus even on phones with small screens. As well as displaying their product range with some nice photos the personality of the shop owners comes across though a well maintained blog.

Finally, the websites were analysed to see how often they had been shared across social media. Sites were grouped by the number of Facebook Likes and Tweets on Twitter that they received.

Digital Birmingham

While the websites of most Birmingham retailer shops had less than 100 Tweets it is good to see the majority had at least some Facebook Likes. With more importance being placed on the use of social media for businesses improving your profile on these networks can offer a cost effective way to promote your shop online.

When combing some of this data we can see that website owners who have sites that work on mobile devices and offer e-commerce functionality tend to have more social shares. Around 6.5% of the sites in the sample had websites with both mobile and e-commerce capabilities with these sites having a much higher than average number of social shares.

Atoo Menswear have been selling alternative streetwear since their shop opened in 1998. The fact that the shop sells rare hard-to-find labels from around the world means they have dedicated fans across social media. They have over 700 followers of their Twitter account and over 2,000 Likes on their Facebook page where they showcase some of their latest products.

As expected for a city of its size Birmingham retailers have a reasonably high proportion of e-commerce sites. There is room for improvement though with a lot of those sites not being designed with mobile devices in mind and with the sites lacking shares on social media. Social media provides a way for smaller retailers to talk directly to their customers and can be highly effective at building a company’s brand.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_city_of_the_United_Kingdom

2. http://businessbirmingham.com/files/2013-02-08/EconomicZonesProspectus.pdf

3. http://www.digitalbirmingham.co.uk/about/key-achievements

4. http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/retail/small-stores-are-powering-uk-retail-growth-their-sales-are-up-a-whopping-8/7213.article

5. http://mashable.com/2013/11/06/children-media-activity/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link

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