Subdued growth in March online retail sales

March online retail
// Online retail sales in March increased by just 5% Y-o-Y amid tough comparisons
// Monthly growth is below the three (7.5%), six (7.1%) and 12-month (10.2%) averages
// Online-only retailers fared slightly better than multichannel, with 8.9% growth compared to 5%
// Major sectors like clothing and home & garden record low revenue growth

Online retail sales last month saw subdued growth due to a later Easter pushing back holiday spending and no repeat of last year’s Beast from the East snowstorms.

According to the latest eRetail Sales Index from IMRG and Capgemini, the online retail industry only recorded sales growth of five per cent during March amid tough comparisons from the same period last year.

While still positive growth, this subdued performance fell below the three, six and 12-month averages of 7.5 per cent, 7.1 per cent and 10.2 per cent respectively.

Online-only retailers saw marginally better results – growing 8.9 per cent compared to multichannel retailers which grew five per cent.

Across the sectors, the impact of a late Easter was most apparent in home & garden, which saw its impressive growth trajectory from earlier in the year slow to just 1.6 per cent year-on-year.

Meanwhile, despite the solid 16.7 per cent growth in footwear, the overall clothing sector continued its five-month run of single digit growth at 3.7 per cent.

Closing the first quarter, clothing now stands at 2.6 per cent growth, significantly lower than last year’s 13.9 per cent growth for the same quarter.

On the other hand, both electricals and gifts saw sales plummet in March by 26 per cent and 22.1 per cent respectively.

In contrast, health & beauty had another strong month of sales, with a 15.6 per cent year-on-year uptick, boosted by a 19.8 per cent increase in beauty.

Capgemini principal consultant Bhavesh Unadkat said March’s growth “may seem slow”, but stressed that the sector was up against a “very strong” March 2018.

“More concerning is the overall position of clothing – which continued its five-month run of single digit growth,” he said.

“Many of the larger, often reliably robust, retailers also recorded low single-digit growth.”

He added: “It will be interesting to see whether the Easter holiday will boost April figures enough to spring some life back into this year’s spending.”

IMRG insight director Andy Mulcahy said: “While on the surface of it five per cent growth may not seem very positive, there are actually two possible interpretations.

“On the one hand it looks bad as it’s below the three, six and 12-month rolling averages… it’s also the lowest of the first quarter of 2019.

“On the other hand, this growth is against a strong base from March 2018, which featured Easter and freezing temperatures that kept people away from high streets and boosted online sales in 2018.

“As Easter falls in April this year, the growth rate for that month will determine whether March’s performance can be considered good, bad or indifferent given those factors – not to mention the continuing general macro-economic pressures on retail.”

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