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Online sales show slowest-ever growth in the first quarter of 2015: IMRG

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Online sales grew by 9% in March, compared to the same month last year, making the opening quarter of 2015 the first in which ecommerce showed only single-digit growth, according to IMRG figures.

Ecommerce sales grew by 7% over the course of the quarter, according to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index for March. Last month’s 9% growth represents something of a recovery compared to the 6% growth that the IMRG recorded in February, following on from 7% growth in January. Last March, year-on-year growth was up by 17%, and at the time was the strongest since 2011. However, March sales were 11% ahead of February 2015 sales.

All of the growth is now coming via mobile devices, with m-commerce sales up by 38% in the first quarter, compared to the same time last year. In March alone, smartphone and tablet sales were up by 46% on last March and 9% on February 2015.

“After a rather unsteady start to the year, March’s return to growth, albeit a relatively conservative one, will be much welcomed by the UK’s online retailers,” said Adgild Hop, principal, head of retail consulting at Capgemini .

“The influence of sales via a tablet or smartphone, which are in effect the main vehicles for growth in the index, is a clear indication of just how valuable mobile platforms have become to the retail customer experience. If it weren’t for mobile, the overall trends for e-retail would be neutral at best. Retailers therefore need to expect that as online propositions become increasingly commoditised, the secret to differentiation and competitive advantage increasingly resides in the mobile customer experience.”

Mother’s Day gave a boost to March sales, with digital sales in the gift sector up by 20% year-on-year and peaking at 48% during the week beginning March 9, immediately prior to the festival. Travel sales were up by 18%, year-on-year, compared to 6% recorded at the same time last year.

Tina Spooner, chief information officer, at IMRG said: “There are a number of factors that may be influencing this apparent slowdown in online retail sales growth – such as a maturing market or uncertainty around the upcoming election. One particular point that does stand out from the latest figures however is that travel growth for Q1 2015 (+19%) was the strongest we’ve seen for that quarter since we started tracking this sector in 2009 – this suggests that consumers may be feeling more confident in how the economic recovery is progressing and spending out on holidays again, diverting that potential expenditure away from retail sites.

“This may be further evidenced by the Q1 performance of the high ticket item sectors electricals (+1%) and home and garden (-6%) as people may be investing their money in more entertainment-focused activities rather than home improvement.”

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