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Online sales ‘not immune to customer caution’

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Online sales continued to grow in April, according to British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures published today.

The monthly BRC Retail Sales Monitor found that non-food non-store sales – internet, mail order and phone sales – rose by 15.9% in April, continuing a trend and bringing the 12 month weighted average to April 2010 to 15.8%. However it seems that level of growth depended on more promotions than in previous months.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “Non-store sales are not immune to customer caution. Sales growth held up but retailers are having to work harder to maintain it. They’re running more promotions and discounts, especially on big-ticket items, and sendin out more email marketing and brochures to alert potential shoppers.”

The BRC found shoppers were more likely to buy essentials, and sales of clothing, footwear and homewares slowed. It also flagged up its usual health warning that while this category of sales is growing faster than the high street, expansion is from a low base, with non-store sales totaling some 6% of total retail sales.

The figures came against a backdrop of a 2.3% fall in overall UK retail sales. The BRC said, however, that this was partly because Easter was in April last year but not this year, and that the three month weighted average to April showed a 3.8% rise across all categories of retail.

Looking closer, food sales were down, probably reflecting the Easter factor, while, just as online, clothing, footwear and homewares sales were down.

Robertson said: “There’s no question customers are more willing to spend than 12 months ago but still nervous. People need to know how a new Government’s moves to tackle the deficit will affect their incomes and jobs. Even if the measures are tough, knowing what they are could be better than the current uncertainty.”

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