Mar 19, 2020
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UK e-sales: clothing boomed last month but footwear struggled

Mar 19, 2020

The IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index showed on Thursday that UK e-sales were almost flat last month with an uplift of only 0.4% year-on-year.

Online shopping rose only slightly last month

In the month before the coronavirus really started to impact Britain, the result continued the weak growth seen in January. The performance fell well below the three, six and 12-month rolling averages of +4.%, +7.5% and +5.3% respectively.

And when looked at on a month-on-month basis, February was actually down 0.7%. The index also showed that the growing disparity between retailer type intensified, with omnichannel sellers seeing sales down 8.2% while pureplays rose 12.5 %.

The biggest issue last month was winter rainstorms rather than Covid-19, according to figures from the 200 online retailers that the index tracks. But the coronavirus will have had an impact later in the month and is likely to be the dominant factor when March’s figures come out.

IMRG said that the split between rising pureplays and falling omnichannel names “could now be hugely exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis”.

And the performance of individual categories is likely to evolve in the weeks ahead too. For February, clothing continued to be “one of the best performers of the year to date” with growth of 13.9%. But anecdotal evidence from fashion retailers has suggested that while fashion e-sales are holding up better than in-store, they’re still not rising fast enough.

In contrast to clothing, footwear was the second-lowest-performing category last month, with sales down 7.6%.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “Over the past few years, retail has become an industry beset with problems – even before the coronavirus crisis hit the UK, which has massively shifted shopper behaviour. We were already seeing a division opening up between the growth fortunes of multichannel and online-only retailers, and this might be a trend that becomes increasingly profound given the current climate”.

He also said that for general merchandise, “with so little clarity over how long the current crisis will go on, people might have little choice but to switch all purchasing online”.

And Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant for Retail Insight at Capgemini, added: “Like-for-like performance dropped towards the end of the month amid rising attention on coronavirus. Although the UK’s online market is well established, we can already see supermarkets struggling to satisfy peaks in demand. We can expect online sales in other categories to grow too, especially for products that can help self-isolated customers such as home and garden categories. The months ahead could prove an opportunity for online to help serve customer needs, and potentially part of a larger shift to digital.”

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