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Olympics distract rather than inspire online shoppers

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The Olympics proved a distraction rather than an inspiration to online shoppers, according to retail sales figures out this week.

Today's Retail Sales figures for August 2012 from the Office for National Statistics show a 7.5% rise in online sales in August, with average weekly sales rising to £466.1m during the month. Meanwhile the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index found that UK consumers spent £5.8bn online in August, 11% more the same month last year, but 11% less than in July.

A fall between July and August, said IMRG , was typical, but this fall was greater than usual. In 2011, for instance, sales fell by 6% between July and August, and in 2010 they were down by 8%.

Internet sales are now estimated to account for 8.1% of all UK retail spending came, said the ONS. The ONS also said the proportion of internet sales was 0.3% higher than a year ago but 0.9% lower than in the previous month of July.

Total UK retail sales, it said, rose by 2.7% in volume on the same time last year, but were down by 0.2% in volume compared to the previous month of July. Their value was up by 3%, year on year, and 0.2% month on month.

Adam Stewart , marketing director at Rakuten’s Play.com , said the ONS figures were no surprise. "August is traditionally the calm before the Christmas rush," he said. "This is also an exceptional year, with the Olympics capturing the nation’s attention for half the summer it comes as no surprise that shopping was not top of the priority list. The summer months are a time for retailers to take stock and start gearing up for the Golden Quarter as consumers begin to start thinking about buying gifts for Christmas. Last October saw a rise from September 2011 by 0.6%, according to the ONS, as a result of pre-Christmas sales and promotions and we expect this year to follow a similar pattern.”

The IMRG research found that while some product categories saw strong year-on-year growth, month-on-month comparisons were less flattering. Gift sales rose by 41%, year-on-year, but by only 5% month-on-month, while electricals sales rose by 11% on last year but fell by 2% on the previous month, and health and beauty sales were up 25% on last year and down by 10% on July.

Online-only retailers enjoyed growth of 15% year-on-year, compared to 8% for multichannel traders.

Mobile retail, on the other hand, saw strong growth of 294%, year-on-year. The conversion rate also improved slightly, suggesting more focus from shoppers.

Chris Webster , head of retail consulting and technology at Capgemini UK , said: “It is very common for August to see a slight decline in e-retail sales, but it is interesting to see just how much an added impact the Olympics had. It will now be up to retailers to capitalise on the changing season, and make sure the correct strategy is in place as we enter the run up to Christmas.”

Tina Spooner , chief information officer at IMRG, said: “While online retail sales saw a boost during July in the run up to the Olympic Games, the same cannot be said during the event itself. The 11% growth recorded in August is below the average Index performance year-to-date and is perhaps an indication that Olympic fever did not have an overall positive impact on the online retail industry.

“While sales via mobile devices also recorded lower annual growth than seen in recent months, the m-Retail Index also reveals that the average spend via mobile devices was the lowest recorded during 2012. However, sales via mobile devices have grown a staggering 320% year-to-date compared with the same period in 2011 and by the end of this year we expect m-retail to account for around 20% of online sales in the UK”.

Zak Edwards , chief executive of Prezzybox , said: “Our sales during August were up 20% on the same month last year which is great. However, times are still tough and the economic climate doesn’t appear to be recovering any time soon, but it really does focus the mind and the direction of the company. Whereas years ago we would do things which were 'nice to do', now everything we do has a cost / benefit analysis attributed to it. If there is no direct or indirect benefit on sales we don’t do it. Simples.”

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