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EDITORIAL How Top500 retailers from Burberry to The Works from are targeting digital at a time when online sales are expanding fast but overall sales are falling

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In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter, we’re reporting as the latest ONS figures show how we all shopped in 2020. At the top line, it suggests that shoppers bought less than the year before during 12 months in which more people worked from home, socialised less and spent less time in shops. All are conditions that made for fast online shopping growth. In all, shoppers did 46% more shopping online. It was a bad year for clothing retailers but a good one for those selling food. In today’s guest comment, Sarah McVittie of Dressipi does the maths as she considers how cutting return rates can boost fashion retailers’ fortunes. 

Online growth in a context of weaker retail sales are patterns reflected in the latest news from several retailers this week. Value retailer The Works, which reports half-year figures today, has seen fast online growth and now plan to invest more online and in multichannel sales. Sales at its stores were hit by temporary closures, but it still sees them as integral to its business, since it is one of the few value retailers to offer multichannel services. 

Burberry has used digital to grow sales, to engage with customers, and to link its customers to its stores even while they were closed, for virtual appointments and customer events. 

Meanwhile, Pets at Home has shown that its omnichannel sales grew by 70% at a time when customers turned to innovative services from ’deliver to car’ click and collect to subscriptions. 

As online sales expanded over the last year, so did cross-border sales to European Union markets. But now that the UK has fully left the EU, with a free trade agreement, there are new barriers to buying online, from VAT and customs codes through to potential tariffs via the EU’s rules of origin. We take a look at how ecommerce and multichannel retailers are responding to that change – and ask whether it’s still worthwhile to deliver to Europe. 

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