Online sales flat in month before coronavirus crisis hitting UK

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Online sales flat in month before coronavirus crisis hitting UK
The picture was particularly bleak for multichannel retailers whose sales declined 8.2% versus their online-only counterparts, which saw sales surge 12.5%.
// In the month before the coronavirus crisis, online retail sales declined 0.4% year-on-year
// Despite the surprising upturn in late 2019, February’s result continues the weak growth seen in January
// Month-on-month online sales down 0.7%

In the month before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic and plunged global markets into crisis, the UK’s string of winter storms failed to stimulate online retail sales.

For the month of February, online sales limped in with a marginal year-on-year decline of 0.4 per cent, according to the latest IMRG-Capgemini eRetail Sales Index.

Continuing January’s equally weak performance, when sales also dipped by 0.4 per cent, the latest result falls well below the three, six and 12-month rolling average growths of four per cent, 7.5 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively.


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The picture was particularly bleak for multichannel retailers whose sales growth was down 8.2 per cent versus their online-only counterparts, which saw sales surge 12.5 per cent.

IMRG and Capgmini said these polarised figures point to an emerging trend in the diverging fortunes of the two different online retailer types, and could now be hugely exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

“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,” IMRG insight director Andy Mulcahy said.

“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.

“We can see this in groceries – the move over to purchasing them online has been steady but limited by capacity to fulfil.

“Now that stockpiling has driven demand to unprecedented levels, we may see a situation where shopper behaviour shifts over to that as a preferred channel very rapidly.

“Equally 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.”

Capgemini managing consultant Lucy Gibbs said: “February saw the UK hit by one storm after another, however this did little to increase online spending as retailers continue to face a multitude of challenging factors and 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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