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Online sales growth continues to lead the way

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Retail sales continued to grow fastest online in March, new figures out today show.

Some £4.5bn was spent online in March, according to figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, a rise of 15% from the same time last year. The rise came as warm weather inspired people to shop for new clothes, where retailers saw a 27% rise in sales. Footwear and accessories were the fastest growing areas of the market, with rises of 58% and 55% respectively.

The figures contrast with today's UK retail figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed the value of total UK retail sales in March was up by 4.4% to an estimated £29.9bn. Food stores grew by 1.2%, while non-food stores were up by 6.7%. Clothing and footwear grew by 2.8%.

The ONS is experimenting with producing online figures, which showed that about £372m was spent online every week in March. It put the market share for online sales at 6.9%.

Shoppers with a multichannel strategy did best among online retailers, according to the IMRG figures. It found that those traders with stores and online facilities saw year-on-year sales rise by 28% in March, compared with 1% for online-only retailers.

Tina Spooner, director of information at IMRG, said: “There is a strong trend emerging showing that high street retailers with an online presence are playing an increasingly significant role in the e-retail sector. Retailers with a diverse multichannel offering will no doubt continue to reap the rewards of their investment in the online space.”

Chris Webster, vice president, retail consulting and technology, Capgemini, said the figures demonstrated the resilience of online retail. “The retailers themselves, particularly those with an online and a store presence, have fought hard to attract and retain customers, even in a period of political uncertainty,” he said.

Bruce Fair, managing director of Kelkoo UK, said: “We expect this rate of growth to continue through 2010 and predict that online sales could account for 10.5% of total retail spend by the end of the year.”

John Lewis said johnlewis.com sales were up by 48% on last year, while fashion sales more than doubled. Shopping.com said its home and garden sales rose by 51%.

The IMRG figures showed that online travel sales rose by 14% in March and chime with a report from Kelkoo, carried out by the CEBR, that forecast the UK would spend £41.1bn on travel in 2010, up by 2.4% on last year, or £669 per person. This follows a bad year for travel in 2009 when overall sales fell by 8.4%.

Online travel sales however, which grew by 18.5% in 2009 and, Kelkoo forecasts, will grow by 13% to £17.6bn in 2010.

However there were fears that the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, which grounded UK planes for six days up to and including Tuesday, could cost the UK economy £500m and jeopardize the travel industry recovery.

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