Did the vote to leave the EU send shoppers running from the high streets, or provide a deterrent to online shopping? According to the latest official figures, the short answer to that question is no.
The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Retail Sales report for July 2016 suggests spending increased both online and offline last month. Retail spending as a whole – most of which takes place in shops – rose to £29.6bn in the four-week reporting period of July 2016, or £7.4bn a week. That’s 3.6% up in value compared with a year earlier – July 2015 – and up by 1.6% compared with the previous month – June 2015. Shoppers spent 16.7% more online than they did last year, at £963.8m a week, 1.2% more than last month. Those purchases accounted for 14.2% of all retail sales, excluding automotive fuel. The hike in spending came as selling prices fell by 2%, and for the 25th month in a row.
Spending online grew fastest in the household goods category (+36%) and accounted for 9.3% of all retail spending in that category. Department store spending grew by 22.9% to reach 12.6% of all spending, while textile, clothing and footwear websites saw spending grow by 3.1% to reach 12.7% of all spending in the category. Food spending grew by 13.1% and reached 4.7% of all grocery sales.
As to the question of whether sales growth was up or down, the figures show that sales grew faster in July, both online and offline, than they did in June. The referendum was on June 23, with the result known on June 24, and so should have been mostly unaffected by the result. That month, online shoppers spent £944.3m, 14.1% more than a year earlier, and sales accounted for 14.2% of all retail spending.
It seems that long-term trends have continued unchecked by the EU referendum result. Shoppers are spending more at a time when prices are falling, with growth faster online than off as, slowly but surely, more people choose to buy more goods via digital commerce – while remaining firm supporters of the shop.
Nir Debbi, co-founder and CMO at cross-border ecommerce specialist Global-e, says the weakness of the pound following the EU referendum result is helping to drive sales growth.
“Now could not be a more opportune moment for British retailers to invest in online cross-border activity,” said Debbi. “International consumers are opportunistic to value and having access to high quality British products at a lower price point will appeal to them. Therefore, buying from UK retailers has become more attractive for consumers based in EU countries as the product will be cheaper in real terms as the value of sterling decreases.”
Rupal Karia, managing director of retail and hospitality, UK and Ireland at Fujitsu, said: “These latest figures from ONS show that even in times of uncertainty, consumers are still willing to shop. What is interesting about the figures is that the amount spent online in July has in fact increased by 16.7%, compared with July last year. This highlights how consumers are becoming ever more comfortable with using digital channels to shop.”
He added: “The growth in the popularity of online shopping shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to the high street; it should be seen as an opportunity for bricks and mortar retailers to reinvent themselves and embrace digital. As consumers now have a multitude of options at their disposal from online and social to mobile and in-store, they are becoming increasingly intolerant of retailers who won’t provide them with the means to shop in the way they wish. It is essential therefore to have seamlessly integrated channels that flow from the shop floor, to the back end systems through to the online store. This will enable customers to move freely from one to the other during their shopping experience and shop the way they wish in this new digital age.”