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EDITORIAL Where now for the shift online as UK shops reopen?

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

What do today’s official retail sales figures tell us about the shift online? That’s the question in today’s InternetRetailing newsletter. Over the last year of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, shoppers have been buying more online. Pureplay retailers in particular have welcomed that move as a previously inevitable shift online that had come faster than they imagined. The big question now that the UK is emerging steadily from lockdown 3.0 is whether shoppers will continue to do as much of their shopping online. 

Today’s ONS Retail Sales figures offer insights into where retail spending took place in March. It seems to suggest that shoppers were already starting to do slightly less – a fall from 36.2% to 34.7% – of their retail spending online, even before non-essential retail opened. At the same time, says the ONS, more sales were taking place in-store. This may be down, in part, to travel restrictions loosening and petrol sales increasing. The real test will come in next month’s figures, as shoppers have been able to return to UK stores since April 12. One very subjective data point – in the form of a local post delivery worker – tells me that the number of parcels already seems to be falling. 

But ecommerce and multichannel retailers and brands remain convinced the shift online is here to stay, despite the apparent rebound in-store sales documented over the last week. That’s supported by what today’s ONS figures say about the proportion of retail in each category that now takes place online – with 11% of food sales now online, along with 55% of clothing sales. 

Elevate Brands is buying up Amazon sellers – and now owns 20 brands, thanks to strong levels of investment in its business model over the last year. Its chief executive and co-founder Ryan Gnesin says that in the US market, shoppers have simply discovered how much better the online experience is during the pandemic – and he believes shoppers will continue to buy online. The business is now expanding to Europe as it looks to becoming a leading brand aggregator. 

Pureplay Gear4music is reporting a transformational 2020 as shoppers turned online to buy musical instruments and equipment during lockdowns and related Covid-19 restrictions. It’s now preparing for further expansion, investing in both European distribution and in its website. 

Parallel to retail, Domino’s Pizza says it was delivering 20% more pizzas in lockdown 3.0 than it did a year earlier. It’s now looking to improve its collection rates as it plans for post-Covid opportunities. 

As we’ve seen, today’s ONS figures show 55% of clothing sales took place online in March. Today we also report as footwear and clothing retailers Schuh and New Look look to improve the practical experience for the large proportion of customers that are now experienced and may well be happy to buy online.

In any case, online demand comes from further afield than UK shoppers. In today’s guest comment, Andrew Mitchell of JCB International advises on how retailers can optimise for shoppers from Asia who still want to buy online from Europe despite the restrictions on international travel. 

All this considered, it seems that online demand has stepped up several gears over the last year. If  anything, store reopenings look set to give ecommerce and multichannel businesses a period of respite in order to ensure that online experiences are well optimised for shoppers who are very likely to continue to buy over the internet in the future. 

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