Mar 8, 2023
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Gifting a bright spot in weak February UK e-tail, but clothing struggled says IMRG

Mar 8, 2023

UK online retail sales fell 4.1% last month compared to a year ago, the latest IMRG report has shown. Sales were down 7.8% compared to January and clothing had a tough time during the month.

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That said, February saw the first week-on-week total market revenue growth for this year with a 1.4% increase in the week starting 19 February.

That may be small comfort for e-tailers that saw the January blues continuing as the overall monthly run of declines continued after starting in May 2021.

The 4.1% drop in February was made worse by the fact that it followed a 27.6% plunge in February 2022, the biggest monthly decline ever reported in IMRG’s Online Retail Index, which tracks online sales for over 200 retailers. 

So which categories really struggled? As mentioned, unfortunately, clothing was the worst off. It fell by 8.7% year-on-year, “continuing the prolonged struggle for growth in this category since October 2022”. 

Interestingly, even though the weather was cold, the best-performing category was gardening (up 38.7%), illustrating that consumers were more focused on their homes and gardens than on what they were wearing.

Or perhaps it was partly because the consumers still left with some disposable income in the cost-of-living crisis are homeowners who aren’t that fussed about getting in quick with their new-season fashion in a month of uncertain weather, but felt the urgency to order dahlia tubers, tomato seeds or fence panels at that specific moment.

Yet a bright spot for the style-focused sectors came as IMRG added that in February, “retailers reaped the benefits of marketing traditional Valentine’s Day gifts”. There was a week-on-week spike in gift sales (+21.9%) and fragrance (+23.1%) in the seven days starting 5 February.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “Following the pandemic boom in online sales growth, volumes have fallen away for a period of almost two years now. At some point in 2023, even though growth was not possible in February against the biggest decline ever from February 2022, we still think growth will return, even if it is very modest.

"The basket value shot up last year, and conversion collapsed accordingly, but those rates seem to have stabilised now so it’s just a question of when the apparently-temporary pandemic volume has fallen away sufficiently to enable retailers to really take stock of how to build up again."

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