Retail sales slowed both online and offline in March, British Retail Consortium figures out today suggest.
Ecommerce sales of non-food products grew by 6.6% in March, the BRC-KPMG Online Retail Sales Monitor for March 2017 suggests. That’s the lowest growth since August 2016, and falls below the three-month average of 7.4%, and the 12-month average of 9% growth.
Online sales continued to grow their share of the market: they represented 22% of total non-food sales in March, up from 20.9% a year earlier. Over the last three months, online sales accounted for 22.3% of total sales.
Today’s figures, suggesting a slowdown across retail, came as Jaeger ??, a Top250 retailer in IRUK Top500 research, went into administration, putting some 700 jobs at risk. Joint administrator Peter Saville, of AlixPartners, said it had not been possible to find a buyer for the business.
Jaeger’s failure is being put down to a highly competitive retail environment, demonstrated in today’s figures.
At the same time, overall retail sales, across all channels, fell by 0.2% in total, and by 1% on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the effect of store openings and closures. The slowdown in both online and offline sales, said the BRC, was exaggerated by the timing of Easter.
“Online non-food sales growth in March was dampened by the later timing of Easter this year,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium ??. “Those products historically popular with shoppers over the long weekend, notably larger homeware items, took a hit but will feel the benefit during April instead. Health and beauty products on the other hand, achieved the strongest sales growth of all categories thanks to gift purchases for Mother’s Day, while gaming and electricals continue to be online bestsellers as customers are enticed with new product launches.
“Retailers continue to innovate and invest in their digital offers to attract customers amidst the intense competition. Mobile optimisation has been the focus for many and some are already reaping the benefits of higher conversion rates as customers enjoy speedier browsing activity. Meanwhile, for fashion retailers, new free delivery initiatives have successfully driven increased loyalty from those customers who sign up.”
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG ??, said: “Online retail sales in March fared better than the high street, with non-food sales up 6.6 per cent in the month. That said, we haven’t seen growth this low since August last year and the timing of Easter is likely to have had an impact. Demand in UK retail is also showing signs of slowing down more broadly.
“Most categories did note growth in the month however, with health and beauty performing particularly well. It is likely Mother’s Day provided a helping hand, and with temperatures being milder than usual for the month, shoppers were also shrugging off the shackles of winter. Fashion sales also proved especially popular, with spring collections seemingly striking the right chord with shoppers.
“The later timing of Easter is likely to have contributed to the sluggish furniture and homeware sales in the month. Interest in these categories will probably pick-up in the coming month, with the holiday providing an opportunity for home improvements. It remains to be seen if the slowdown in online sales is just a temporary blip or a more significant occurrence.”
Commenting on the figures, Rupal Karia, managing director for retail and hospitality, UK and Ireland, at Fujitsu, said: “Overall the retail figures for March were disappointing, being the third consecutive month where sales failed to grow. During these more challenging times, consumers are evidently being more careful about their spending, hence the focus on more essential items such as groceries. What is notable however in the figures is that trips to pubs and restaurants increased, which highlights the fact that consumers’ priorities on what they wish to spend their money on is changing, preferring to spend it more on social activities and experiences.
“As such, retailers need to think about the experiences that they are offering their customers. In recent years we have seen a hub of retail destinations develop where people can shop, dine, watch a film and relax all in one single spot, providing the all-encompassing experience that consumers now demand. As a nation we crave ease and convenience, so retail destinations where shoppers and commuters can do everything all in one place is becoming increasingly appealing. As a result, retailers need to present themselves differently and should look at establishing a community where they can cater to all those customer demands.”