Online fashion sales plummet 23% during first month of lockdown

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Online fashion sales plummet 23% during first month of lockdown
“There is a bit of a myth going around at the moment that online sales are booming." - IMRG insight director Andy Mulcahy
// First month under lockdown sees online fashion sales plunge 23.1% in March
// Overall online sales was down 5.1% year-on-year, but up 2.6% compared to February
// Multichannel retailers outperformed online-only retailers for the first time since April 2019

Online fashion sales nosedived during the month that saw the lockdown of non-essential stores, despite overall sales improving when compared to February.

In a month where spring buying would typically set in, online clothing sales plunged 23.1 per cent year-on-year in March, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index.

While the government issued stay-at-home guidance earlier in the month, the enforced lockdown didn’t come into place until March 24 – although by this time many major retailers had already voluntarily shuttered their stores to help stem the spread of the contagious Covid-19.


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Digging deeper into fashion sales, menswear was down a staggering 42.9 per cent in March while footwear was down 32.8 per cent.

Indicative of a very mixed set of results on a category level, the warmer weather and increased amount of time spent in the garden during the lockdown sent online garden sales soaring by 94.4 per cent year-on-year.

Beauty also continued to build on strong February sales, spiking to 36 per cent, while electricals recorded March’s third standout performance – surging by 40.2 per cent – as consumers turned to home entertainment or set up their offices to work from home.

Overall, online retail sales for March declined 5.1 per cent year year-on-year – well below the 12, six and three-month rolling averages 4.5 per cent, 6.7 per cent and -2.1 per cent respectively.

However, last month’s performance was a 2.6 per cent increase on a month-on-month basis.

The Online Retail Index suggested that March started off with poor online sales for the first fortnight, but seemed to recover in the latter weeks as people began to adhere to the government’s stay-at-home guidance, followed by lockdown.

Meanwhile, multichannel retailers outperformed their online-only counterparts for the first time since April 2019, recording declining by four per cent compared to a 5.5 decline for pure-play online retailers.

“Online sales performance this month is a mixed story, as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges,” Capgemini managing consultant Lucy Gibbs said.

“‘Non-essential stores closed their doors on the high street which led to the majority of multichannel retailers gaining a boost in online performance in the latter half of the month as consumers channelled their demand into digital.

“However, the changing demand and customer needs has also polarised impacts on different product categories where the appetite for fashion dropped off significantly compared to garden, home and electrical which are seeing unusually high demand as we spend more time at home.

“Next month we are likely to see a continued rise in online demand however it has never been more important to listen to consumer needs to respond to new spending patterns, communicate in a way that resonates with the concerns and needs of customers and using datapoints to inform next steps as we navigate through the changes.

IMRG insight director Andy Mulcahy said: “There is a bit of a myth going around at the moment that online sales are booming.

“It’s more accurate to say some online retailers are experiencing huge demand, outstripping even that seen over Black Friday, because so many people are in the exact same situation – i.e. stuck at home.

“That has created very lopsided demand among product categories.

“People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down.

“How and when a stronger balance in demand might be established is a pressing question for retailers currently on the wrong side of that divide.”

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