UK shoppers spent more than £5bn online in March, according to the latest figures from ecommerce trade body the IMRG.
Internet sales of £5.1bn over the course of last month represented a 14% jump on the same time last year, the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index found. Compared to the previous month, February 2011, sales were up by 5%, as consumers spent an average of £82 each.
The figures come in the same week that the British Retail Consortium found UK retail sales had fallen by 1.9%, their biggest drop in at least 16 years, and said growth in online, mail order and phone sales had risen by only 7.5%.
By contrast, the IMRG Index saw growth of 18% during the first quarter, compared to the same time last year which, says IMRG, makes it the strongest first quarter performance since 2008.
Tina Spooner, director of information at IMRG, said: “The index reveals an encouraging performance for the eretail market during March and confirms that online continues to be the beacon for the UK retail market during these tough economic conditions, with the high street suffering its worst drop in sales for 15 years during the same period.”
Particularly strong performances came from the health and beauty sector, up by 20% from February and 32% year-on-year, while the gifts sector saw sales leap by 55% in the week before Mother’s Day.
The travel sector, however, fared less well, with sales down by 15% compared to February and 2% compared to last March. IMRG puts this down to the Budget, announced on March 23, and says austerity measures are likely to have encouraged consumers to tighten their belts.
Chris Webster, head of retail consulting and technology at Capgemini, saw evidence that shoppers were becoming choosy about where they spent their money. “Consumers are indeed tightening belts,” he said, “but they are still shopping and have simply become more strategic in their buying habits.”
Multichannel retailers continue to have an advantage, the index found, with high-street and online retailers seeing average 19% growth compared to 6% for pureplays.
Jonathan Brown, head of online selling for John Lewis, which has this week launched its first online fashion magazine, said fashion and childrenswear sales were both growing fast online. “John Lewis online had another strong month with sales up over 24% with all product areas exceeding both 2010 sales and our expectations.
“However it was interesting to see that whilst overall traffic saw slightly slower growth than we have been used to, customers who were on our website were concerting at a higher rate, spending more each time they shopped with us.”
Russ Carroll, UK managing director of Shopping.com, said health and beauty sales had risen by more than 20%. Partly, he said, that was down to Mother’s Day. He added: “This tells us that consumers continue to buy essentials but are looking online to ensure they get the best deal.”