Online sales growth begins to normalise despite reimposed restrictions

As lockdown restrictions were reintroduced throughout September, online sales returned to patterns that would be expected this time of year. In comparison to the spending surges seen during phase 1 of the lockdown, last month recorded steady seasonal online sales growth of +42% Year-on-Year (YoY) – below the peak growth of 51% in June, but still very strong.

That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

At a category level, health & beauty and home & garden continued to perform well, with sales growing by +78.5% and +76.3% respectfully. Following the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X games consoles, electrical sales were also up a staggering +101.8%. Meanwhile perhaps in a nod to the seasonal change, overall clothing sales were up +7.9%. This included encouraging growth for menswear sales, which were up +20.5% YoY against a Year-To-Date average of -10.3%, but further disappointment for footwear sales (-6.9%). 

Echoing sales figures from the last 6 months, multichannel retailers continued to strongly outperform their online only counterparts, recording growth of +62.7% versus +19.6%. 

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, says: “September marked a new phase in the COVID outbreak as, after three months of easing restrictions and encouraging work / life / social interactions to resume, restrictions started to be reimposed. The situation is somewhat different to how it was in March though, and it didn’t trigger an upsurge in online sales. Growth is still very strong, but the weekly and monthly trend lines are fluctuating in line with what we’d expect to see this time of year.

“From here, that could change. October has seen much stricter measures come into force across the UK plus the new three tier system. With rising infection rates and potential for more restrictions, the attractiveness of physical retail may decline further. This makes Super Saturday – the busiest day leading into Christmas Week – problematic, as that volume will have to be diverted away from places like Oxford Street to elsewhere; most likely online, with serious proximity to Christmas, so retailers and carriers will be hoping people spread their spending out to avoid that bottleneck.”  

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant - Retail Insight, Capgemini, says: “The hardest hit sectors during lockdown such as clothing have continued to pick up throughout September (+7.9%), boosted by increased activity and a turn in the weather. However, with increasing social distancing measures combined with the lack of festive events appearing in the calendar, we are likely to see further disruption to seasonal patterns as we head into winter.

Higher frequency purchases are also indicating new consumer behaviour patterns; basket values have dropped 10% in September, whilst year on year demand has remained over 40% growth, suggesting that the convenience of online channels is increasingly relied upon for day to day purchases. This leaves an interesting landscape ahead of Christmas, where the prospect of double-digit growth on top of peak sales days could cause retailers to seek ways to ease the pressure on delivery channels.  One way to address this could be to spread demand, with some stores notably bringing Christmas ranges forward, and the delayed Amazon prime day lines up to kick start spending in the ‘golden quarter’.  It could pay to get ahead of the game this year.”

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