UK Market Research - Industry Size

One of the most comprehensive estimates of the sterling value of the supply side of the market and social research industry is provided by the government’s Annual Business Survey (ABS).

The updated results for 2016 were published on 18 June 2018. For 2016, the ABS projects sales turnover of c. £4 billion from more than 3,000 enterprises on the supply side of the total market and social research industry (as defined by companies’ self-classification under SIC code 73.2).  About half of these enterprises are employers, the other half being sole traders etc.

Of the £4 billion ABS estimate, MRS calculates that c. £1 billion is generated by companies specialising in Advisory Services and/or Market Intelligence (syndicated reports etc.).  The remaining c. £3 billion represents Core Suppliers (of qual/quant market research).

It is estimated that a further c. £1 billion over and above those covered by SIC code 73.2 in ABS is represented by firms active in Data Analytics. [1] There is not a ‘data analytics’ SIC code as such: instead, such activities are absorbed into vertical trade sectors and other professional services.

The UK research industry is the second-largest in the world, topped only by the USA: but in terms of research spend per head of population is pre-eminent – £61 per capita in 2016, with the USA second largest at £45, and France and Germany at £27 and £25 respectively.

MRS also publishes an annual League Table of the 100 largest research suppliers. The 2016 Table, published in December 2017, showed that these top 100 firms accounted for £3.03bn in sales volume. This demonstrates the extent of the industry’s consolidation, and the existence of a ‘long tail’ of smaller research suppliers with cumulative sales of c. £1bn.

[1]     See the PwC updated Business of Evidence Report at

Growth Trends

Although the ABS is used by MRS as a basis for assessing industry size, it is not considered the best source for assessing growth trends. Contentious issues around the ABS include:

  • Timeliness: it is not published until nearly twelve months after the year end – the 2016 estimates were not published - and then only provisionally - until November 2017, and were then updated in June 2018.
  • Double counting: the ABS approach includes the turnover of organisations that supply research services within the research industry – data collection companies and so on: as a result the figures will include this element of double counting (estimated at 15%-20% by MRS).
  • Coding differences: organisations self-classify their activities when completing the ABS. There are other classifications, such as business services, where organisations that undertake research might incorrectly allocate their activities (and vice versa).
  • Like-for-like: the most useful measure of growth is like-for-like organic growth, stripping out extraneous activities such as mergers and acquisitions. There is no like-for-like exercise undertaken as part of the ABS approach.

Similarly the MRS League Table does not offer a full picture when it comes to assessing growth for the whole industry. The League Table represents only the 100 larger organisations within the industry, and their growth characteristics do tend to diverge from the thousands of smaller companies. It should also be noted that about one third by sterling value of the League Table comprises companies in the broader developing market segments such as advisory services, and data analytics. Growth in the 2016 League Tables for the companies in these developing segments was more than 4%, while growth for the other c. two thirds, mainly 'mainstream' sample-based qualitative / quantitative market/survey research firms, was c. 1%.

Each year the MRS conducts a survey among its Company Partners and others on the supply side of the industry to monitor some of their key business parameters. Participants in the MRS Annual Survey are suppliers - large and small - across the research spectrum. It is a good indicator of not only what is happening within the more traditional research base but also among smaller suppliers outside the League Tables.  The aggregate combined turnover for organisations responding to the latest MRS Annual Survey was c. £0.9bn.

MRS uses its Annual Survey as the basis for estimating growth rates in the sectors of the market in which MRS Company Partners are mainly active.  For 2017, the estimate for annual turnover growth among Company Partners was 1.8%.

Combining these various inputs, our current estimate is that the total £5 billion market and survey research industry grew by c. 3% in 2017.

Business of Evidence report

This MRS / PwC joint report provides key findings as to the shape, size and skills of the research, insight and data analytics sector.

Go to the report


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