What can the high street and Les Binet teach us about the importance of understanding claimed vs. actual behaviour?


As we move into the new year and another lockdown there’s no doubt that the high street will again suffer, so it would be the easiest piece of analysis in the world to prove that Covid19 had impacted high street retailers.

Some of the highest profile high street struggles have come from Arcadia alongside Debenhams which both sadly fell into administration at the end of last year. However, this got me thinking, why Debenhams and not John Lewis, why Topshop and not other clothing retailers? Putting aside operational issues, potential issues with the marketing approach and number of stores (all of which are undoubtedly huge factors!) I wanted to investigate was there a sign from consumer behaviour that would have predicted this…

According to YouGov, even at the end of 2020 shopping was the 18th most popular activity for the British population nestled between pub quizzes and watching live music. Topshop’s brand health had barely shifted from November 2012 to November 2020 and it was a potential acquisition for Boohoo. Beyond that, in theory it was in no way reliant on it’s in-store business, according to YouGov:

‘…of those who’ve bought clothes from Topshop in the last three months, more than half make most or all of their purchase online (55%) and two thirds say they usually browse and purchase entirely online (63%).

Which begs the question; beyond looking in detail at company profits what would have been an early sign for marketers that something was amiss? Looking solely at surveys and claimed behaviour, something many marketers rely on, there would have been no cause for alarm. 

At the 2020 IPA Effworks Les Binet presented his latest work on using share of search from Google Trends to predict brand health – stating that it can be a long-term indicator in share of market rise and fall. Using this I wanted to investigate if Arcadia’s Topshop and Dorothy Perkins would have seen a potential fall in market share prior to the Covid19 lockdown, as well as Debenhams vs. competitor department stores.

Starting with Google search data from the Apparel shopping category, throughout 2019 up until Q1 2020, only two brands had seen a drop in their share of search – the ones in question? Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.

Moving onto Debenhams, looking only at the department store category (to remove the M&S food related search) again there are only two brands that have seen a drop in share of search. One is of course, Debenhams. The other? House of Fraser who have had their own administration battles over the last couple of years.

If you see these warning signs of doom and gloom, what can be done? As of the 2016 IPA Effworks Binet & Field had reiterated the relationship between your share of voice and share of market and it turns out this too is correct, throughout this period Topshop and Dorothy Perkins reduced their combined share of voice from 50% to 0%. Mark Ritson recently stated that the share of search analysis should replace share of voice, but then what drives share of search? I would suggest it is a three-way relationship that needs to be investigated further (any interest in picking that up, Les?).

The one thing this all leads us to, is the importance of data led analysis about your brand health and not relying solely on survey data. Whether that be a more rough and ready analysis, like the new share of search metric or more in-depth data science led approaches, it’s imperative to make sure we understand the full picture.

Written by David Lucy, Account Director