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Online sales fell by a fifth in November, the sharpest decline on record: IMRG

Shoppers headed in store to ensure they got their gifts before Christmas. Image: Adobe Stock

Online retail sales fell by a record 19.8% in November, new figures suggest. The fall – which compares with the shift online in locked-down November 2020 – may also be influenced by shoppers buying early in the light of supplier shortages and delivery disruption

That’s the lowest growth recorded by the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index in the 21 years of its history. The comparison is with a particularly strong month in November 2020, when non-essential retailers were locked down and shoppers were effectively directed online, driving ecommerce sales up by 36.2%. But IMRG says that the year-on-year fall comes alongside weaker than usual growth compared to the previous month. Sales rose by 40.4% in November compared to October, whereas November sales are typically 50% up on the previous month. 

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, says: “In retail we are often prone to focusing on the negatives, but there is no escaping that November’s performance was very poor. The most concerning thing is that traffic was the problem, shoppers were just not visiting retailers’ sites in their usual volumes. To an extent, that could be explained by people taking to big high street locations again, but the next few weeks will be very interesting in that respect. There does seem to be an attitude of ‘getting it in before we get locked down’ at the moment, but from next week people will not want to go anywhere to avoid having to isolate over Christmas. We will, from a retail perspective, be in a lockdown in all but name which will really skew trading figures.”

IMRG analysis suggests this November, shoppers bought less often and spent less when they did so. Conversion rates fell by 20% year-on-year to 3.3%, while average basket values fell to £123 from a 2021 peak of £149. Multichannel brands – this year able to sell in-store, unlike last year – saw their sales fall by 23.4%, while online-only saw their sales fall by 13.4%. 

Clothing was the only category that did not see negative growth in double-digits, with gifts (-46.4%) the worst hit, followed by electricals (-29.2%), a category where Black Friday spending is often strong.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – retail lead for analytics & AI at Capgemini, says the drop in online sales this year is not unexpected, but says the month-on-month figures suggest that spending overall has been “even more subdued”.

She adds: “While a return to in-person shopping has taken a large share of the spend, other factors such as supplier shortages and delivery disruption have also caused retailers to spread and dilute some of the offers, which could be behind the decrease in conversion by 20% across November.”

The IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index tracks the online sales performance of more than 200 retailers 

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