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EDITORIAL Tesco, M&S, Currys, Asos and more on how shoppers bought over Peak 2021

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Peak trading figures out this week from a broad range of Top500 retailers suggest the online shift that first took place amid pandemic restrictions appears to have continued over a Christmas when retailers were able to open their stores as normal.

The figures appear to provide an early – positive – answer to the question of whether shoppers would continue to buy online even once pandemic restrictions were lifted. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that shoppers may well have been concerned about the Omicron variant over Christmas in a way that may have deterred them from returning in-store. That’s certainly something that is mentioned by Halfords in its peak update, when the retailer says it saw behaviour change following the emergence of the fast-spreading variant.

Last year, shoppers were effectively pushed online for many of their online purchases by the lockdown closure of non-essential retailers in November and early December, which continued into regional restrictions in areas including London. That pushed up last year’s figures strongly, and retailers are doing well to report higher sales this year than last.

The figures that show the shift in customer behaviour most starkly compare this year with two years ago, before the pandemic started. That’s therefore where much focus is in this round-up of how retailers have seen shoppers buy online this year.

Marks & Spencer has reported strong growth in online clothing and homewares sales in the run up to Christmas, up by 51% compared to two years ago. The retailer says its online sales were boosted by shifting some online fulfilment to the store, and it also reports selling off two warehouses.

Tesco says it saw its largest share of business yet take place online in the run up to Christmas – and more now than at any point since the pandemic started. To an extent that reflects expanded delivery capability, which now includes its Whoosh one-hour delivery service at more than 100 supermarkets.

Currys sold 29% more online in the run up to Christmas than before the pandemic, suggesting a distinct shift in the way people want to buy technology. But at the same time, the technology market has fallen 10% this year compared to last – with supply chain problems an issue for it.

Asos saw sales lift in the UK as shoppers bought going out clothing ahead of Christmas, but Covid-19 restrictions in European markets prevented socialising – and sales in those markets were lower. The fashion retailer is now expanding a programme that sees brands that sell on its platform deliver online orders direct to Asos customers. This was trialled in the UK, and will now be expanded to Europe – where it may help the retailer to circumvent some of the supply chain issues it came up against at Christmas.

Today we’re also reporting on an update from Card Factory, while today’s Predictions 2022 piece focuses on operations and logistics.

And in today’s guest comment piece, Jack Williams of Selazar considers the new opportunities that fulfilment technology now offers.

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