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Fashion not seeing e-sales surge, but behavioural shift expected post-lockdown

Published
Jun 5, 2020
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Sales reports are a bit like buses. You don't see one for a while then several come along at once. On Friday, only shortly after BDO talked about surging online sales as part of a wider look at UK retail, the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index reported the fastest online sales growth for 12 years.


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And while fashion was the main sector seemingly not invited to the party as its sales continued to drop sharply, a key IMRG analyst thinks that the lockdown might mean faster fashion e-sales growth in future than we might have seen without the crisis.

But first, the numbers. Based on figures from more than 200 retailers, the Index showed online retail sales rising 32.7% year-on-year during May. And what was particularly encouraging was that they were up 13.6% compared to April. This was a clear sign that consumers who might have been reluctant to buy online in the early days of the lockdown are now embracing the channel.

The Index also showed that the disparity between retailer type continued to widen last month as multichannel retailers outperformed online-only platforms by +53.1% vs +10.1%.

Again, that's encouraging news and shows that retailers whose shops are currently shut have been able to continue their businesses via the online channel.

But there was no encouragement for the fashion sector as last month’s rises were overwhelmingly driven by soaring sales in three categories – home and garden, electricals, and beer, wine & spirit. These were boosted by good weather, furloughed workers having time on their hands and other people having to adapt their homes to become remote-working offices.

And fashion? It was down 9.8% year-on-year. Within this category, footwear sales were hardest hit (-16.4%), but womenswear and menswear were also down, by -14.7% and -14.4% respectively. But at least the figures easily beat those in April, which suggests that consumers are starting to think about fashion again. This is happening as the end of the lockdown gets closer, and perhaps as guilt feelings about buying fashion in the middle of a global pandemic recede.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant - Retail Insight at Capgemini, said: “The demand patterns from April continued through to May, with some product sectors seeing extraordinary sales growth and others still in decline.

“The clothing sector has struggled throughout the lockdown period as shoppers move their focus away from personal fashion, and towards home improvement and home entertainment. However the silver lining for clothing retailers in May, is a healthy 37.6% uplift from April, indicating shoppers are showing an increasing interest in updating their wardrobes as lockdown relaxes. Time will tell if a gradual return to the ‘new normal’ aid the recovery for clothing to positive growth.”

Meanwhile, Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, added that there’s a big question about how strong online sales will continue to be once physical shops reopen. While he expects some spending to quickly return to physical locations, he also thinks there will be some permanent change, especially in the fashion sector.

“Much spend has been forced online, and often in an artificially-inflated way; the huge spike in freezer sales will be a blip for example,” he said. “[But] we might expect online demand to remain much stronger over the longer term. With clothing, a major category in negative growth, once demand returns there, will it be in stores – where 30-minute queues to get in will quickly become tiresome – or online, which is by its very nature socially-distanced?”

He thinks “it seems reasonable to assume demand and culture will have been forever altered,” with consumers who are buying new clothes as they return to work and to social occasions now more likely than ever to do so online.

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