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flag United Kingdom United Kingdom: Distributing a product

In this page: Distribution | Distance selling



Types of Outlet

Department stores
Clothing, cosmetics, jewellery, food
Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Harrod's
Supermarkets and hypermarkets
Food supermarkets and specialized department stores – Some opened 24/7 Monday morning to Sunday 4pm.
Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose
Convenience stores
General food, drink and everyday products
Budgens, Tesco Metro/Express, Sainsbury Local
Discount stores
Miscellaneous goods offered at an attractive price (opportunistic purchases)
Aldi, Netto
Home centres
Gardening, decoration, products for the home
B&Q, Homebase, Currys
General food and everyday items, plus pharmacy, travel, financial services, funeral services etc.
Drug stores
Cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals

Evolution of the Retail Sector

Growth and Regulation

According to the Office for National Statistics, retail sales volumes fell by 1.4% in March 2022, following a fall of 0.5% in February, but were 2.2% above their pre-coronavirus February 2020 levels. Retail sales values fell by 0.2% in March 2022, following a rise of 0.4% in February, but were 10.1% above their pre-coronavirus February 2020 levels. The largest contribution to the fall came from non-store retailing in which sales volumes fell by 7.9%. The proportion of retail sales online fell to 26.0% in March 2022, its lowest proportion since February 2020 (22.7%). Food store sales volumes fell by 1.1% over the month to March 2022 and have fallen each month since November 2021.

According to the figures provided by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the UK grocery market was valued at $297 billion (£205 billion) in August 2020. This is an increase of 6.7% on 2019. Groceries account for 11% of total household spending in the UK, making it the third largest area of expenditure, following housing and transport. Food and grocery sales account for more than 40% of total UK retail sales (Retail Economics, 2020). There are more than 87,000 grocery stores in the UK. These are split into four sectors:

  • Supermarkets: Four supermarket chains dominate UK food retailing, accounting for 66% of the market.
  • Discounters: In the 12 weeks ending April 17, 2022, the discounters combined market share reached 13.4 percent of the British grocery market.
  • Internet or Online Shopping - The value of the UK online grocery market has seen tremendous growth in recent years and in 2019 was valued at $15.2 billion (£12.7 billion).
  • Click and Collect - With the increasing popularity of online retailing, supermarkets and other retailers introduced Click and Collect which has become hugely popular and is rapidly growing. Click-and-Collect is a concept, that brings together the benefits of online retailing with the advantages of maintaining a store-based retailing presence.
  • Convenience stores: the UK’s convenience store market is highly fragmented, with a large number of retail operators. It can be divided into : Co-operative stores, Gas stations, Convenience outlets  at supermarkets, Non-affiliated independent, Traditional convenience store.
Market share

Grocery sales in the UK are dominated by Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda/ Wal-Mart and Morrison's. These four trademarks had a combined market share of 66% of the UK grocery market, divided as followed (Kantar World Panel, April 2022):

  • Tesco - 27.3% market share
  • Sainsbury's - 15% market share
  • Asda/ Wal-mart - 14.1% market share
  • Morrison's - 9.5% market share
  • Aldi - 8.8% market share
  • Lidl - 6.6% market share
Retail Sector Organisations
British Retail Consortium
Institute of Grocery Distribution


Internet access
According to the British Office for National Statistics, in 2017 90% of households in Great Britain had internet access, with the highest levels of connectivity being in London and the southeast of England, both at 94%. Household internet access has been growing in the UK, and since 2006 it has grown by 32%, with increases across all regions and countries. The largest rise was in Scotland, increasing from 48% in 2006 to 90% in 2017. As of 2018, 90% of adults in the UK were internet users, a slight growth of 1% from the previous year. However, out of the 10% of adults who aren't internet users, 8.4% of them have never used the internet (and more than half were aged 75 or older). When it comes to age, the internet is most used by younger generations. Almost every person (99%) aged between 16 and 34 were internet users in 2018. However, that percentage drops to 44% for people aged 75 years and over. In 2017, 78% of adults aged 16 to 75 and older used the internet away from home or work. In terms of how people access the internet, 73% of them do so using a mobile phone or smartphone, a number that has more than doubled since 2011, when that rate was 36%. The second most popular devices are laptops and tablets (43%), followed by other handheld devices (such as MP3 or e-book readers) used by 14% of people. The most popular internet activity in the UK in 2017 was emailing (82%), followed by finding information about goods and services (71%), and reading online news, newspapers or magazines (64% -  a figure that has tripled in a decade). Internet banking is also a popular internet activity, and it rose by 33% since 2007, reaching 63% of adults in 2017. As of July 2018, the most popular search engines in the UK were Google (82.85%), followed by Bing (12.1%), Yahoo! (2.53%), MSN (1.57%) and DuckDuckGo (0.57%).
E-commerce market
According to the Office for National Statistics, online shopping has been constantly growing in the UK. The British e-commerce market is by far the biggest in Europe. With a total value of US$ 207 billion, it is worth almost twice as much the second biggest market, France (US$ 108 billion). In 2017, B2C e-commerce turnover in the UK was GBP 13.7 billion (US$ 17.6 billion). That represented a 13.65% increase from the previous year, and a growth rate of 14.3% is predicted for 2018, which means e-commerce in the UK could be worth US$ 20.6 billion by the end of 2018. Almost half of online consumers in the UK use their mobile phone or tablet to search for products and then use their desktop to place the order. However, almost 59% of digital buyers in the UK made online purchases using their smartphone in 2017.
Social media
Social media is a common part of everyday life in the United Kingdom. According to Statista, at the beginning of 2018 there were 44 million active social media users in the UK, which represents a penetration rate of almost 65%. As of July 2018, the leading social media platforms in the United Kingdom ranked by market share were Facebook (63.76%), followed by Twitter (14.89%), Pinterest (10.38%), YouTube (3.96%), Instagram (3.23%), Tumblr (1.81%), reddit (0.69%) and LinkedIn (0.67%). Facebook has been the most popular social network in the UK throughout recent years. It is particularly popular among those aged between 25-34, of which 5.6 million women and 5.6 million men were using the social media platform in January 2018. The total number of Facebook users in 2018 was 32 million (and is expected to rise to about 41 million by 2021), making it the largest platform by far, followed by Twitter (with 20 million users), YouTube (19.1 million), LinkedIn (19 million), Instagram (14 million), Snapchat (13.6 million), Google+ (12.6 million), Pinterest (10.3 million), Tumblr (9 million) and reddit (6.6 million). With a growing number of social media users, businesses are focusing more on those platforms to market their products and services. The most popular social networks for businesses are Facebook (which is favoured due to the high number of users), followed by YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.

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Distance selling

Evolution of the Sector
The World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) 2017 report shows retail direct selling in the United Kingdom grew 1%, was valued at USD 3.698 billion, and involved 550,000 independent representatives (80% of which were female in the UK according to SELDIA). Another 2017 WFDSA report divides retail sales as follows: wellness (43%); cosmetics and personal care (28%); clothing and accessories (16%); book, toys, stationery, etc. (8%); and household goods and durables (3%).

Euromonitor International notes traditional direct selling companies are struggling due to internet retailing and their old-fashioned image. Avon remains the leading direct selling company with 160,000 independent representatives, although it has seen steady declines in sales; to counteract this, Avon launched My Avon Online Stores and optimised mobile sites. Apparel and footwear direct selling companies are also facing greater competition from companies such as Primark and H&M in both price and fashion trends. Person-to-person remain the most important direct sales channel but is quickly being replaced by party plan sales.

The Direct Selling Association UK, SELDIA and Direct Selling Europe promote best practices in the industry.

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Latest Update: April 2024