Shoppers turned online in April to buy new clothes as warm weather over Easter boosted retail sales, new figures suggest. But while overall retail grew online and offline compared to last April, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Retail Sales April 2019 report, it was flat across retail and falling online compared to the previous month, of March 2019.
In April alone, ecommerce grew by 10.1% compared to the same time last year, and accounted for 18.7% of all retail sales. That’s up from 17.7% a year earlier, but down by 2.6% compared to March.
Across all retail channels, shoppers spent 5.5% more to buy 5.2% more goods, including automotive fuel, in April compared to the previous year. Sales grew in all categories except for household goods, which fell by 4.5%.
But compared to the previous month of March 2019, they spent 0.3% less to buy the same amount of goods. Shoppers spent more on clothing, with non-store retailers including pureplay traders and on fuel, in April compared to March, but they spent less in other categories.
In the three months to April 2019, shoppers spent 1.7% more to buy 1.8% more goods compared to the previous three months.
Online trade showed healthy growth during the month – compared to the same time last year – at department stores (+12.4%), textile, clothing and footwear stores (+15.9%), household goods stores (+13%) at other stores (17.7%), while non-store retailing, which predominantly includes pureplay retailers alongside market traders and auction houses, grew by 9.3%. Online food sales, however grew by just 0.9%.
Shoppers spent less money online in April than they did in March 2019, with overall ecommerce sales down by 2.6% during the month. That was reflected in a drop in non-store retailing (-7.5%), while other categories – department stores (+3.3%), clothing and footwear (+4.2%), household goods (+3.5%), and other stores (+1.5%) – showed relatively low growth.
The sectors where the greatest proportion of sales took place online – after non-store retailing where 72.9% of sales were online – continued to be department stores (18.4%), clothing and footwear stores (18.4%), followed by household goods stores (13.8%), other stores (12%) and food (5.5%).
Commenting on the figures, Andrew Westbrook, RSM’s head of retail, said:
"The last-minute delay to Brexit helped encourage UK consumers to loosen the purse strings in April after a period of hoarding cash. When compared with the previous year, the quantity of goods bought in April 2019 increased by 5.2%, with growth across all sectors except household goods.
"Consumers were lured back in part by retailers discounting goods that had been stockpiled in preparation for Brexit. The good weather also helped to boost clothes sales as shoppers sought to refresh their summer wardrobes, with online only retailers benefitting the most.
"Looking ahead, the pressure remains to drive down stock levels amid the continuing challenges facing the high street operators, the effects of which are now extending to the commercial landlords. Many have been forced to accept lower rents to keep units occupied and to write down property valuations.
"Many retailers will be hoping for a resolution to the current political impasse so they can return to more normal seasonal trading, but the reality is that they may be waiting some time."