Unilevers e-commerce directo,r Andy Houghton, believes brands act as "totems of value"

Unilever's e-commerce directo,r Andy Houghton, believes brands act as "totems of value"

Consumers are more brand loyal when shopping online, giving food and drinks manufacturers the chance to exploit the growth of the channel, according to Unilever.

Online shoppers are "up to 15% more brand loyal" and spend more on the Internet than when shopping at physical retail outlets, Unilever e-commerce director Andy Houghton said. Speaking at the IGD Online Grocery Retailing conference in London earlier this week, Houghton claimed that brands can thrive online, even with consumers being low on confidence and looking for deals.

"In the context of the really deep promotional activity that's going on at the moment," he said, "brands act as a totem of value to the online shopper. We think they spend almost a couple of pounds more on the equivalent shopping trip online versus in store."

Houghton's belief in online brand loyalty follows comments last week by Sainsbury's commercial director, Mike Coupe, that consumers were becoming more aware of the prices charged by retailers, driven in part by the ability to compare prices online. 

However, the Unilever executive insisted price was not the only consideration for consumers and said brands could offer shoppers value.

"Shoppers are looking for brands," he said. "Brands act as a point of recognition. It's not just about price. In straitened times, shoppers are looking for value. This is not necessarily about promotions but about products that meet their needs on the first time at a fair price."

Houghton also noted the importance of "brand advocates" on social networks and said the likes of YouTube and Facebook could also be useful even when users are not happy with a company's products. "If consumers don't like it, we want to know about that and we want to know about it pretty quickly," he said.