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August online sales up by 14%, with a back to school boost

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The UK’s shoppers spent £5.2bn online in August, 14% more than at the same time last year but 6% down on the previous month, July, according to new figures from the IMRG/Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index.

In the same week, the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) August bulletin on Retail Sales showed that non-store retailing – primarily online sales – rose by 13.7% in volume during the month, compared to the same time last year. That compares, said the ONS, with flat total UK retail sales, mostly accounted for by the high street. The volume of UK retail sales was level with the previous August, while they rose by 4.7% in value, reflecting higher inflation. In all, shoppers spent £25.4bn in August, compared to £24.3bn the previous month. Sales, measured by volume, fell by 0.8% in food stores and by 1.6% in non-food stores.

The IMRG/Capgemini index, which concentrates on online sales, found clothes sales fared particularly strongly during August, as families shopped ahead of the return to school. Sales in the clothes, footwear and accessories category rose by 22%, compared to the same time last year, though they were down by 15% compared to the previous month.

At the same time, homewares sold well. Notably, said the IMRG and Capgemini, the riots that broke out in the second week of August did not appear to have a significant effect on online sales. “It appears they were not widespread enough or prolonged enough to have an effect,” they said.

The ONS also said the effect of the riots was unclear. The bulletin said: “There was some feedback from retailers that the August 2011 riots, seen across parts of England, resulted in some stores closing early, thereby reducing their opening hours; and some stores being directly affected by the riots. The economic impact of these closures cannot be measured in relation to the all retailing index, as there was also feedback from some retailers that they saw increases in sales due to changes in shopping behaviour.”

The IMRG analysis showed that the travel sector had suffered another difficult month. Sales in the category were up just 3% compared to the previous August and down by 10% compared to the previous month.

Multichannel retailers saw their online sales grow by 16% in August, year-on-year while pureplays saw sales up by 10%. But compared to July, multichannel sales were down by 10% while pureplays were up by 1%.

Across the survey there was a marked decline in August sales compared to July, with overall online sales down by 6%. But the index found the variation between the months was less this year than in previous year. In the same period in 2010 and 2009, it said, sales fell by 8% and 10% respectively.

Chris Webster, head of retail consulting and technology at Capgemini said: “August is a tough month for e-retail but this year saw a smaller decline thanks to the solid figures for retailers selling both online and in store.

“However, it’s worth noting that with such a strong performance during the first half of 2011, it’s a big ask for e-retail sales to maintain such rapid growth.”

Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, said: “As seen in recent months, the Index continues to show that consumer spending on higher-ticket purchases is slowing. Although travel sales were up just 3% year-on-year, consumers who did purchase holidays and flights online in August spent on average 44% more than the same month last year.

“Fashion-conscious consumers are one of the key growth drivers in the UK e-retail sector, with clothing sales continuing to outperform the total online retail market. Year-to-date the online clothing sector has grown 27%, with sales of accessories soaring 56% in the same period. Between January and August the total UK e-retail market grew 17%, when compared with the same period in 2010, with Britons having spent an estimated £41.9bn shopping online.”

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