Transforming our approach to collecting data – ONS retail survey goes online.

A key ONS business survey has just gone ‘digital by default’.  Jason Bradbury explains how ONS is transforming its approach to data collection.

“If you’re anything like me, you expect to be able to do everything at the click of a button, whether it is booking a holiday, buying clothes or paying a bill.  It only makes sense that you should be able to complete ONS surveys online.

So from today, the thousands of retailers that provide data for the Retail Sales Index (RSI) each month will be asked to send us their data digitally, using an electronic Questionnaire (eQ).

RSI is one of the UK’s key monthly economic indicators –closely watched by the media and the financial markets.  So it’s fitting that it’s the first to use data collected by the new online service.

In moving this survey online, we have worked closely with businesses to understand their needs and listen to their feedback, which to date has been very positive. The main comments have been around how easy it is to use and that the format is more accessible.

We rely heavily on you, the public and businesses, to complete our surveys. All the data we collect is extremely valuable in informing the policy decisions that affect you.

However, we recognise the burden this places on business people who are often very pushed tor time, especially in smaller firms.

At the heart of our ‘Better Statistics, Better Decisions’ strategy, we aim to reduce this burden, as well as reduce the cost of data collection within Government, by:

  • moving our surveys online;
  • modernising our technology to help us integrate new data sources;
  • reducing the number of surveys we send out by making much greater use of administrative data and other non-survey sources.

Online submission is part of a wider Data Collection Transformation Programme to improve our data collection methods and help improve decision making across the UK

The demand for evidence to inform decision making is growing and rapid changes in society and technology mean that more data, in richer and more complex forms, is available than ever before.

It shows how ONS is changing so that we can use more of these sources to provide data more quickly, to respond to rapidly emerging issues, and to meet user needs.

We will continue to share our progress in this area through updates via this blog.”


Jason Bradbury is Programme Director for Data Collection Transformation at ONS.