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February ecommerce sales turn in weakest growth for more than two years

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UK ecommerce sales turned in their weakest growth for more than two years in February, according to figures out today.

In all, shoppers spent £5.4bn online in February, marking a 10% boost for UK ecommerce sales, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index. But while growth was well ahead of the 0.3% fall in total UK retail sales reported by the BRC earlier this month, it was the weakest online figure reported since January 2010 and represented just half of the 20% growth turned in in February 2011.

Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, said: “Although growth in e-retail sales was lower than expected in February, it has to be considered in the context of the 20% rise seen in February 2011, so double-digit growth is still a positive result.

Most of the February’s improvement came from online-only and catalogue retailers who recorded year-on-year growth of 13%. Multichannel and high street retailers saw sales rise by just 8% in the second consecutive month that pureplay growth has outperformed multichannel.

“It is very interesting to see the growth of online-only retailers exceeding that of the multichannel,” said Chris Webster, head of retail consulting and technology business Capgemini UK. “Low footfall and a disappointing performance on the high street could be affecting the multichannel retailers’ online counterparts. Online-only retailers’ rapid innovation and adoption of growth areas in e-retail, driven by mobile and click ‘n’ collect, seem to have put them ahead once again; now is the time for the multi-channel retailers to respond.”

Spooner added: “It appears evident from the sales growth recorded by online-only/catalogue retailers over recent months that consumer confidence in the online channel is increasing. These results suggest consumers who may have initially looked to trusted high street brands when shopping online for the first time are now becoming more confident in purchasing from pure-play e-retailers. It is also interesting to note that the average e-retail spend for online-only/catalogue retailers is 10% higher than during the same month last year, while for multichannel/high street it is actually 8% lower.”

During February, the fastest-growing category was gifts, reflecting Valentine’s Day on February 14, with sales up by 26% compared to the previous month and up by 22% compared to last February. Beer, wine and spirit sales were up by 21%, month on month and 9% year-on-year. But electricals sales were down by 21%, month on month and up just 3% on last year.

Jonathon Brown, head of online at John Lewis said: “February was a tremendous month for John Lewis online seeing us continue to build on our outstanding performance in 2011. With sales +37% on 2011 we really have an offer that our customers are responding to in significant volume.

“All directorates saw increased sales both on last year and on our expectations, with fashion sales achieving a remarkable +50% on last year. Key sellers were in womenswear with customers not only buying our core brands such as Phase 8 and Hobbs, but also some of our new brands such as Seasalt and Desigual. Electricals and home technology saw market beating performance with sales +36% on last year with all areas in fine form. Finally home saw consistently outstanding performances with sales coming in at +31% on last year with strength across the board.”

Russ Carroll, UK managing director of comparison website, said: “Online spending remained steady in February with sales of accessories (up 30%) and nutritional products (up 48%) showing particularly strong year-on-year performances across the network. Laptop and tablet accessories also proved popular showing a month-on-month increase in sales of 43%, while clothing and cosmetic sales were up 15% and 5% respectively, perhaps as people snapped up a gift for Valentine’s Day.”

Sue Herrick, buying director at lingerie etailer, said: “We saw a 12% year-on-year increase in lingerie sales during the Valentine’s period. Black lace was the bestselling style, with the figleaves boudoir lingerie range having the biggest brand uplift year-on-year of 11%.”

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