Online sales were flat during February – until coronavirus hit, IMRG figures suggest.
The latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index for February shows year-on-year online retail sales down by 0.4% during the month, which was mostly marked by heavy rain and, in some areas, flooding. Compared to the previous month, sales were down by 0.7%. Pureplay and multichannel retailers had a different experience, with online sales by multichannel retailers down by 8.2%, while those trading only online saw sales rose by 12.5%. The index tracks the sales of more than 200 UK retailers.
Wet weather hit gardening sales (-22%) and footwear (-7.6%), but clothing sales performed strongly (+13.9%) Electricals sales were down by 0.7%, but that represents a significant improvement on recent trends, said IMRG. Last February, sales in the category were 14% down.
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “Over the past few years, retail has become an industry beset with problems – even before the Coronavirus crisis hit the UK, which has massively shifted shopper behaviour. We were already seeing a division opening up between the growth fortunes of multichannel and online-only retailers, and this might be a trend that becomes increasingly profound given the current climate.
“We can see this in groceries – the move over to purchasing them online has been steady but limited by capacity to fulfil. Now that stockpiling has driven demand to unprecedented levels, we may see a situation where shopper behaviour shifts over to that as a preferred channel very rapidly. Equally for general merchandise – with so little clarity over how long the current crisis will go on, people might have little choice but to switch all purchasing online.”
Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant - retail insight, at Capgemini, said: “February saw the UK hit by one storm after another, however this did little to increase online spending as retailers continue to face a multitude of challenging factors and like-for-like performance dropped towards the end of the month amid rising attention on coronavirus.
“Although the UK’s online market is well established, we can already see supermarkets struggling to satisfy peaks in demand. We can expect online sales in other categories to grow too, especially for products that can help self-isolated customers such as home and garden categories. The months ahead could prove an opportunity for online to help serve customer needs, and potentially part of a larger shift to digital.”