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Online sales show healthy March rise

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Online sales enjoyed healthy growth in March, according to new figures out this week.

According to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, UK shoppers spent £5.8bn online in March, a rise of 14% compared to the same time last year and of 9% compared to the previous month. The IMRG said early sunshine and Mothering Sunday both helped to lift sales during March.

Meanwhile official figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that internet sales accounted for 8.5% of all retail sales, excluding petrol, and rose by 15.2% in March, year-on-year. The ONS figures put the average weekly value of internet sales at £484.0m, up from £475.0m in February 2012.

Total retail sales for the month, said the ONS figures, rose by 3.3% in volume, year-on-year, and 1.8% compared to the previous month. In value, they rose by 5.7% compared to last March and 1.8% compared to February.

Commenting on the ONS figures, Adam Stewart, Marketing Director, Rakuten’s, said: “As households start to feel the effects of last month’s budget announcements and income squeeze, it’s encouraging to see the retail sector is still growing. With incomes tight, retailers instinct is to compete on lowest price, but as we saw in January this results in peaks and troughs for the economy.

“In reality attention should be turned to adding value. In the coming months, independent retailers and SME’s need to find ways to make the customer feel special and the service or shopping experience they deliver feel distinctive both in store and online.”

The IMRG figures also detected strong growth in m-retail, which rose by 254% compared to March 2011.

Andy Mulcahy, head of communications at IMRG, said: “We are very pleased to have broken out our m-Retail Index this month for the first time and, as already indicated by our Quarterly Benchmarking Index, the growth rates are exceptionally high at the moment. Although confidence in the mobile channel is obviously growing, the average conversion rate of just 1% is far lower than that of total e-retail. This may be partly influenced by the context in which mobile engagement can occur, with consumers comparing prices in-store or using store locators on the move for example.”

Chris Webster, head of retail and technology at Capgemini, said: “It is very interesting to have the growing significance of m-commerce confirmed, and should encourage retailers to factor in mobile devices to their total retail strategy. The growth rate is important, but so too is the conversion rate, mobile customer experience must be improved to harness its potential.”

The IMRG figures showed strong growth in sales of gifts, up by 48% compared to the same month last year, accessories (+28% on last year), womenswear (+22%) and health and beauty (+22%).

Adam Plummer, head of ecommerce at The Body Shop, said: “Mobile really is a game-changer. The shift to becoming the primary device of choice is well under way. As we begin to understand the desires and motivations of our customers and the technology that best serves these, we have seen our conversion rates steadily rise. Whilst our sales growth through mobile has been phenomenal it has been the general level of interaction that has seen exponential growth. One in five visits originate through a mobile device and, within a thriving multi-channel environment, we are starting to capitalise on the way that mobile ‘glues’ all our channels seamlessly together.”

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