Searching for Deliveries

Google’s index showed British delivery searches increasing.

A BBC article stated:

Online searches for cream teas and afternoon teas to be delivered have surged since the UK went into lockdown, search data has suggested.

That claim refers to Google searches. This article looks at indices.

What is an index?

An index is a measure of relative change. A value is set, and then we observe changes over time or other differences. If an index is 100 at one point, then we see the value of 107: that means the value has increased by 7%.

The Google Trends tool allows people to access an index of search activity on Google. In Google Trends, the highest volume for search terms is set at 100.

Google provide a rounded figure for their trend index. That means if a daily index was 20, it was around 20% of the highest volume. A value of 20 may represent between 19.6% and 20.4%.

In particular, if the indexed value was 0: that does not mean no-one searched for that term. The search volume was less than 0.5% of the highest volume in the study period.

Google provides an imperfect sample of their massive search database. That sample excludes very limited searches and duplicate searches in short periods. In addition, it also excludes queries with special characters.


The BBC article looks at relative changes in UK Google searches.

In Google, ‘Cream tea delivery’ searches grew by around 750%. By contrast, UK Google searches for ‘McDonald’s delivery’ grew by about 250%.

We can compare those two search terms against one another. Here, 100 means the highest daily volume of both terms.

The UK government announced its measures on 23rd March 2020. (Image: R Pubs)

As expected, there are fewer searches for cream tea deliveries than for McDonald’s.

Searches for McDonald’s deliveries reduced after the announced lock-down. Google searches for cream tea deliveries have increased since the lock-down started.

There are two surges in searches for McDonald’s deliveries. Both surges correspond with events relating to the company:

Living with my own trends

There was a notable spike in UK Google searches for ‘cream tea delivery’ on 25th May.

The highest day of the year for ‘cream tea deliveries’ on Google UK was 25th May. (Image: R Pubs)

This is the day that the BBC published their article. The article may have induced far more searches that it was reporting on.

The R code for graphs are on R Pubs and GitHub. I drew the UK indices from Google Trends, between 1st January and 6th June 2020.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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