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Online sales ride high following Brexit result, amid warnings the effect could be short-term

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Online sales boomed in September in the wake of the Brexit vote in June’s EU Referendum, figures from both the IMRG and the ONS suggest.

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that UK online sales grew by 22% last month, compared to the previous year, and by 2.8% compared with the previous month, of July. That boost is well ahead of overall annual UK retail sales growth of 2.9% by value, according to the ONS Retail Sales report for September, following a 1.1% fall in average store prices. Sales volumes rose by 4.1% compared to last year. Some 15% of all retail spending took place online, said the ONS. That’s up from 12.6% a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index reports a 16% September boost to online sales, taking ecommerce growth to 17% in the third quarter of 2016, the highest seen in any quarter since the first three months of 2014.

The figures suggest a boost to online shopping after sterling fell in value following the vote.

Justin Opie, managing director, at IMRG , said: “The growth for Q3 2016 was the strongest quarterly growth we have recorded in two-and-a-half years – although it was building on a lower base of 9.6% during the same period last year. Nonetheless, online sales growth post-Brexit has remained strong – this may in part have been driven by increases in international shoppers buying from retailers’ sites, so they can pay in sterling and get maximum benefit from the sharp shifts in currency we have seen over the past few months.”

But it comes amid warnings that this may prove to be a purely short-term effect.

Bhavesh Unadkat, management consultant in retail customer engagement design, Capgemini , said: “It’s encouraging to see that consumer confidence remains strong. However, a weak pound and an action plan on the horizon for Brexit is cause for concern and could well have a negative effect on confidence.”

Focusing on sectors’ performance, the ONS figures suggested that the fastest growth came in household goods stores, where online sales grew by 44.4%, and accounted for 10.4% of sales in the category. That was followed by department stores, where sales grew by 19.9% and accounted for 13% of all sales. Despite the general overall growth, the figures suggest that sales of textiles, clothing and footwear fell by 4.5% year-on-year, and accounted for 12.9% of sales.

IMRG figures suggested that a warm September had been challenging for fashion retailers promoting autumn and winter ranges. Online sales in the clothing sector grew by 15% in September – that growth was the lowest seen since April.

The home and garden sector saw ecommerce sales grow by 21%, compared to the previous year, in September, taking the category to 11 months in a row of positive growth. IMRG said a prolonged period of warm weather over late summer may have contributed to the sector recording +24% growth in the year-to-date, between January and September. That contrasts with a fall of 5% over the same period in 2015.

“Interestingly, beyond the traditional sectors that we monitor for, we’ve noticed that food performed strongly as the price war between the grocers intensifies,” said Unadkat.

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