Online Sales Accelerate Again in UK, Abruptly Ending the Gentle Return to Normal – IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index

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Just as the growth rate began to normalise throughout September and the beginning of October, online retail sales have spiked once more in the UK.

As rumours of a second lockdown began to gain strength, the growth in spend between the third and fourth weeks of October soared past the 2019 figures (1.3% and 4.8% YoY), surging from +32.7% (YoY) to +43.4% (YoY) respectively. That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

At a category level, this pattern was echoed in clothing sales, which recorded falling then rising growth of +6.6 (YoY), -0.4% (YoY) and +4.9% (YoY) for weeks 1,2 and 3. The month’s final week (commencing 26 October) then saw online sales surge to a staggering +17.1% (YoY) – the category’s strongest performance since COVID hit. Footwear also finally recorded positive sales growth in the last week of the month, with spend rising by +2.7% (YoY). Meanwhile perhaps in a nod to seasonal change and the demand for outdoor heaters, garden sales continued to soar, with growth of +390.9% (YoY) for the month.

Mirroring the trend in sales figures since lockdown restrictions were put in place, multichannel retailers maintained their advantage over their online only counterparts, recording growth of +62.7% versus +19.6%.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: “When the first lockdown came in, most of the categories online recorded a massive uptick in demand, with home, garden and electricals all seeing triple-digit growth at some point during the spring. That demand was obviously being driven by the situation – the need to set up a home office, the sunniest spring ever etc. – and it did seem like some of them might run out of steam, but actually it has remained very high as we approach the peak period with little sign of slowing down. 

“The upshot is that, provided stock levels hold up, November’s volumes are going to provide a really stern test for delivery. Not only was there a big jump in sales activity in the last week of October – suggesting people had started Christmas shopping earlier than normal – but we could see a huge share of sales brought forward from December too. This will be a challenge to manage but moving so much volume away from Christmas should ultimately prove positive. 

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini: “October marks another turning point in the turbulent retail calendar this year; online weekly sales growth eased off after summer, however the final week jumped to 43% in anticipation of new lockdown measures.  This time, the clothing category appears to be following the trend, also seeing the high weekly YOY uplift in the final week of October, with seasonal weather combined with outdoor meeting rules boosting demand. 

“Although we have seen record breaking online growth over the summer months, order volumes were still well below that seen by recent years during peak events such as Black Friday.  As non-essential retailers close their doors for the second time,the stakes will be higher: an uplift on online sales orders in double digits on top peak demand will impact already stretched supply channels.  Retailers can capitalise on learnings so far to reduce the pressure and reassure customers, however a likely differentiator for success will be determined by service levels over the festive period. Will consumer expectations remain as forgiving on longer lead times as we approach Christmas? Or will this trigger a change in promotions and consumer behaviour to help spread the demand over the peak period?”Online Sales Accelerate Again in UK, Abruptly Ending the Gentle Return to Normal – IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index