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Online shopping continues to boom in UK, with sustainable packaging and grocery sales leading the way

Ocado uses a hub and spoke delivery model to compensate for a lack of stores

Data from packaging use and grocery sales suggests that the online boom that began as the pandemic took off continues apace in the UK.

Leading sustainable packaging company, DS Smith has revealed that despite bumper results in the period January to May 2020 – which saw a 41.6% increase from the same period in the previous year – orders for its e-commerce offerings went up a further 35.6% in the period between January to May 2021.

This demonstrates that the online shopping trend shows no sign of abating, in fact, when UK bricks and mortar opened up again in April 2021, e-commerce saw an 11.7% increase compared to the same month in the previous year. 

Meanwhile, separate data from NielsenIQ reveals that online grocery sales declined by -6.9% over the last four weeks ending 19th June. However 8 million shoppers – equal to 28% of all households – continue to shop online every four weeks, indicating that this is a ‘sticky’ habit, likely to remain at a much higher level than before even as we emerge from restrictions. Online share of FMCG sales is currently 13.1%2.

Chris Murray, Managing Director of DS Smith UK packaging, explains: “For many retailers that means adopting a hybrid model and, with the eco-conscious consumer remaining ever more prevalent, it will be those companies that implement sustainable packaging alongside the transformation of their business models that will ultimately succeed. Whether creating bespoke solutions for the online shopping giants or through our ePack store for small businesses, we can help businesses through that change.” 


The packaging giant, whose orders are a barometer for which industries and sectors are performing well, has said that pharmaceutical orders saw exponential increase in e-commerce demand as the virus ramped up globally, reporting a staggering 242.2% increase in the period January to May 2021 compared to the previous year. The drinks sector saw an increase in orders by 25.3% in the period January to May 2021 compared to 2020, as people went out to order a well-deserved tipple. 


There are positive signs for other sectors too: the automotive industry, for which orders drastically reduced as the first lockdown hit (a 28% decrease across the months January 2020 to May 2020 compared the previous year), grew by 43.58% in January to May 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.  And, retailers, of which there was a 67.4% e-commerce increase in February 2021 compared to the same month the previous year, still saw a 29.8% increase in e-commerce orders in the period January to May 2021 compared to the previous year, despite bricks and mortar stores opening up. 


And, as more and more people stayed at home, it seems they were indulging in pampering and continue to do so, with orders to the health and personal care sector growing by 24% in January to May 2021 compared to the same period in the previous year. 


In food, there’s further positive signs: even as people return to restaurants, e-commerce food deliveries such as meal kits, have seen a 45% increase in the period January to May 2021, compared to the same period last year, suggesting we’re not giving up cooking at home just yet. 

This is backed up by the NielsenIQ data. Mike Watkins, NielsenIQ’s UK Head of Retailer and Business Insight, says: “With some lockdown restrictions still in place, British consumers have maintained spend at UK supermarkets, with sales remaining relatively buoyant over the last four week period against the high spend during the lockdown last year.  Staycations for most families this year and the anticipated relaxation of remaining restrictions in July, are expected to be catalysts to a change in retail spend.  Whilst more food spend will shift back to hospitality, the increase in seasonal travel and families and friends finally able to join together without restrictions, will give an added boost to food and drink categories at supermarkets.”

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