May 12, 2021
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UK online sales growth slows, but stays in double-digits, fashion is strong

May 12, 2021

​UK consumers may have rushed back to physical stores last month, but the reopening of non-essential shops in Britain didn't appear to send online spending's trajectory into reverse, despite speculation that it would.

Photo: Thirdman/Pexels

Admittedly, online spend didn't rise as fast as it has in some previous months during pandemic lockdowns. But it was still up in double-digits, it emerged on Wednesday.

The latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index showed sales rising 10.2% year-on-year in April compared to a year earlier. But compared to the previous month, sales were down 12% – an obvious result of the reopening of those non-essential shops.

The fact that the year-on-year figure was also below the three-month, six-month, and 12-month rolling averages of around 50%, was also clearly due to the lockdown easing.

But sales were strong and it's interesting that at a category level, some segments performed much better than others. Importantly for the fashion sector, clothing was up almost 61%, a particularly encouraging result for online shops given that many physical clothing shops were also open for much of the month across most of the UK. And in the womenswear category, the increase was as much as 98.9%, which compares with a dramatic drop of 25.1% in April the previous year.

But while consumers are clearly preparing their wardrobes for the reopening of the economy (whether that means getting back to the office or getting back to socialising), not all shopping categories benefited in the way that might have been expected.

For instance, April saw a reduction in health & beauty, which was down 9%. That said, this may have been less about consumers deciding not to buy beauty products and more about them reducing their spend on health-related items as the pandemic receded. The fact that health & beauty are categorised together can be confusing at times.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, said: “Several large retailers I have spoken to say the first week was amongst the strongest they have seen across online and retail platforms; one even recorded their biggest day ever overall. While online growth might have dropped away from +70-80% between January and March, this is largely as growth rates are now comparing with pandemic-period rates from 2020, which were so strong that it is hard to build upon that performance.

“In January, we mapped out how growth could look if things go relatively well for online, relatively badly, and somewhere in the middle. In April, retail generally seems to have done well, and the rate of online growth is currently somewhere between average and good in that forecast. As people get more options for spending their money in later May and into June, that will provide a sterner test.”

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant - Retail Insight, Capgemini, added: “Clothing continues to rebound, up +50% and +70% across multichannel and online-only, respectively, as pent-up demand combines with increased consumer confidence. Overall, the story this month is a positive one for retail as we start to emerge from our homes – online remains key. However tough comparators over the next few months will be challenging to match.”

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