Is retail nearly back to normal? E-tail sales say yes, physical footfall says no
UK retail is increasingly returning to normal — or at least the ‘new normal’ — as the pandemic recedes. But that new normal means while online activity appears to be virtually back to recognisable levels, physical retail still has some way to go before the recovery can be declared a done deal.
The latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index (which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers) showed that online retail sales dropped 27% year-on-year in February.
Month-on-month sales were only down 7.7%, “which suggests a return to almost-normal spending, as the typical decrease for the time period is between 3% and 5%.
The Index showed clothing sales down 4.6% overall, predominantly brought down by a decrease in accessories (-13.3%) and lingerie (-28.3%) spend. The lingerie drop is perhaps surprising given that February contains Valentine's Day, which is usually a big shopping season for the lingerie sector.
Online retail sales had seen the highest ever growth in February last year with a 60% surge that was the result of the UK being under lockdown back then, and consumers who’d previously not been big fans of online shopping having got used to it since the first lockdown in March 2020.
The report authors said while February’s dip to -27% means it replaces January 2022 (-24.4%) as the worst ever month for growth, “this figure isn’t as negative as it may seem”, comparing as it does to that “staggering 60% growth in February 2021”
If we look instead at February 2022 against February 2020, sales were actually 16.1% higher than before the pandemic.
The report also said the Average Basket Value (ABV) rose for the first time since it reached a peak last August – climbing from £108 in January to £124 for February.
And while clothing overall dipped, at a category level, womenswear and menswear did well (+25.7% and +17% respectively). But the accessories and lingerie negative growth cancelled out this uplift overall.
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: “The unprecedented disruption from the lockdowns has made understanding the wild fluctuations in online growth difficult at times. Now, for the first time since [the pandemic] began, the trading patterns between months have looked settled for a few consecutive months, which tells us the online/offline split is probably now set at the much-feted ‘new normal’. But, just as the pandemic seems to be abating in the UK, it looks like global events could potentially bring further economic and supply chain impacts. From the perspective of businesses, ‘normal’ in the 2020s is proving to mean turmoil and sudden shifts that are going to be difficult to navigate.”
Meanwhile, the latest football figures from the Retail Traffic Index by Ipsos showed that non-food physical stores still face challenges getting back to the pre-pandemic levels.
It said that across the UK in the week to March 5, footfall was down 23.3% compared to the pre-pandemic period and 5% compared to the previous week. Cities seemed to be doing worse with an almost 29% drop compared to before the pandemic and an almost 6% drop week on week.
And all destination types were in negative territory. High streets fell over 26% against two years ago and 2.6% against the previous week; retail parks fell 16% and 7.5% on the same basis; and shopping centres dropped nearly 24% and 4.6%.
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