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PEAK 2020 Nearly 60% non-food sales online in peak trading November: BRC

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More than half of non-food sales took place online in November, as shoppers spent 47% more via the channel than they did in previous years, according to the latest British Retail Consortium figures. 

The BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for the month suggests that 59.3% of non-food sales took place online. That’s up from 33.2% a year earlier and comes as non-food ecommerce sales grew by 47.2% on a year earlier during a month when non-essential shops were closed for much of the month both in England and Wales. Last November, sales grew by 0.3% on the previous year. November’s ecommerce growth is well up on the three month average of 40.6% and the one-year average of 33.2%. 

The result is online’s biggest share of sales yet in a year when more shoppers than ever have opted to buy over the internet as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It goes beyond the 50.7% of sales that took place online in June, when half of retail sales took place online for the first time, according to BRC figures. By October, sales had settled down to being 40% ahead of the same time last year.

The figure represents massive growth for the ecommerce channel. Total retail sales across all channels grew by a more modest 0.9% – while in-store sales fell by 18.6% over the last three months, both compared to the same periods last year. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, says: “Disparity between online and in-store non-food sales widened, with the highest online penetration rate since May. Non-food stores once again experienced double-digit decline as tighter restrictions were bought in across England.”

Last November total retail sales fell by 0.9%. The three month average now stands at 3.9%, while the 12 month average is at 0.3%. 

On a like-for-like (LFL) basis, which strips out the effect of both permanent and temporary store and business openings and closures, retail sales grew by 7.7% on last year. Last November they were down by 1.3% on the previous year. 

“November saw the brakes put on the sales growth that had been seen over the previous three months,” says Dickinson. “In-store non-food sales saw a significant decline as a result of the lockdown in England, however some retailers were able offset a proportion of lost sales through greater online and click-and-collect sales, ensuring they could still serve their customers. Extended discount periods helped spread demand and offered customers great deals on gifts including the latest gaming consoles, other electronics and home accessories.”

Over the three months to November, in-store sales of non-food items fell by 18.6% in total, and by 10.8% LFL. Food sales grew by 7% in total and by 6.4% LFL over the same period. That’s ahead of the 12-month average growth of 4.8%. 

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “Despite the on-going unprecedented environment, UK retail fought hard during November to win growth on last year.  It was a tale of two channels however, as lockdown resulted in a dismal performance for high street retailers, whilst online sales rose by impressive double figures across most categories.

“The gap between winners and losers continues with home focused items such as technology and household appliances putting in a very strong performance, whilst fashion sales fell away at a significant level.  The evolution of Black Friday from a day to now spanning multiple weeks, has further distorted trading patterns and will have likely brought Christmas purchases forward. Despite this, high street retailers will still be hoping that consumers will be pounding the pavements in the coming weeks as they battle hard to make up for lost ground in this crucial time.

“The arrival of a vaccine programme will help to boost consumer confidence, but conditions are likely to remain challenging for the immediate future and retailers will need to fight hard in the January sales for every penny in consumers’ pockets.”

Commenting, Elle Nadal, director of marketing EMEA at customer experience cross channel platform Iterable said:  “Whilst in-store sales fell as a result of the second national lockdown, the upswing in online sales in November limited the impact on the sector. With the reopening of stores this month, we would expect retailers to see at least a partial recovery of in-store sales – a vital lifeline for businesses in the run up to Christmas.

“Nevertheless, retailers will need to be mindful that not all shoppers will be able (or necessarily want) to rush back to stores now that lockdown has lifted. We expect that brands will continue to maximise sales via online channels offering customers unique deals and a more flexible way to browse – perfectly complementing the in-person shopping experience.

“Regardless of whether customers are shopping in store or online, brands should focus on leading with empathy and compassion. Shopping can often be a stressful time for customers, coupled with concerns around Covid. With this in mind, businesses who focus on creating meaningful connections with their customers, will drive loyalty and brand advocacy long beyond the festive period.”

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