Feb 21, 2020
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Fashion and beauty dominate anaemic January e-tail but challenges remain

Feb 21, 2020

Online sales proved weak during January with a 0.4% fall year-on-year, a rare situation for the e-tail sector, which is more used to seeing growth, even if that growth is occasionally quite small.

Britons shopped online in large number late last year but were more subdued in January

The latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, showed that the first month of 2020 continued trends already seen in 2019. Despite the Black Friday and Christmas-linked upturn in November and December, the rest of 2019 had seen the sector weakening.

But while last year was a problem, it seems this year is so far facing even more of a struggle. The January figure fell well below the three-month, six-month and 12-month rolling averages that were up 8.9%, 6% and 5.5% respectively.

But while online growth in January was anaemic, some retailers and sectors did better than others. For instance, continuing a trend seen since April 2019, online-only retailers “performed significantly better than their multichannel counterparts”, with sales growth of 7.6% versus a 2.9% fall.

And category-wise, beauty continued to be one of the best performers in January, though its growth of 7.1% was relatively subdued in comparison to its average growth of 23.3% in 2019. 

Meanwhile both home and clothing also saw increases, of 6.1% and 3.1% respectively, although that was largely where the positivity ended. In perhaps the strongest indication of the Black Friday effect and the impact of end-of-year discounting on the traditional January sales period, electricals sales plummeted from their first positive performance in over two years in December (+11.9%) to -17.7% in January.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, said that there had been some uncertainty over whether the November-December spike signalled a turnaround or just a temporary seasonal boom.

“It seems that we now have our answer,” he added. “Flat growth to start the year, against a modest growth rate of 7% in January 2019 (which itself was the lowest for January in three years) suggests that it wasn’t just uncertainty over Brexit that was suppressing spend [overall last year]. The real reasons are likely to be multiple and diverse, requiring fundamental appraisals of retailer propositions to ensure they are well set up for success in this fast-changing market.”

And Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant - Retail Insight at Capgemini said: “Interestingly, budget retailers were seeing more favourable results and outperformed the mid-market players in the clothing and health and beauty sectors, which had positive results this month.  For clothing this has been an increasing divide over the second half of 2019.  Consumers are remaining cautious as we start the year and are seeking value for money. Combine this with a rise in demand for sustainable shopping, will the gradual increase in consumer confidence be reflected in spending patterns as the year goes on?”

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