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Clothing sales continue to grow digitally, ONS data reveals

Tom Shearsmith
11 July 2022

Shopping online became the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for some sectors, the sharp shift towards online purchases may be more lasting.

According to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), despite restrictions easing and people returning to the shops, some categories continue to grow digitally such as clothing, electrical household appliances, sports equipment and toys.

Overall, those who live in the UK are still spending substantially more online than before the Coronavirus pandemic. In May 2022, ONS data revealed that seasonally adjusted internet sales accounted for 26.6% of all official retail sales, compared with 19.7% in February 2020.

In recent months consumers have started shifting back towards shopping in store, although spending online remains high.

The proportion of online spend in clothing remains higher than before the pandemic. Clothing has seen an acceleration towards online spending, although it is not clear how permanent these trends will be in future. Retail volumes in May 2022 were only just above what they were in 2019, so that, despite large drops during restrictions, there has not been a rebound in how many clothes consumers are buying.

ONS data

ONS data July 2015-May 2022

Spending data also suggests that people aged 55 years and older reduced spending at the start of the pandemic more than younger age groups.

This change may be attributed to the fact that those aged 55 years and over would have typically been more affected by health concerns and a larger proportion of people in this age bracket would have been advised to shield during restrictions. After this initial reduction, trends broadly matched between age bands.

However, more recently, data has shown a higher growth in spending for those aged 55 years and over compared with other age groups. This could potentially indicate a build-up of involuntary savings during the restrictions period.

Government High Streets Task Force expert and ShopAppy founder, Dr Jackie Mulligan, commented: “People shopping online more in the digital age is inevitable and was a trend simply accelerated by the pandemic. However, it’s encouraging to see that, in recent months, more people are starting to return to bricks and mortar stores.

"Shopping, for many, is a social as much as a transactional experience and the local shops that line our high streets are the beating heart of communities. The various lockdowns, especially the first, showed the key role local shops play in supporting their communities, as well as highlighting the importance of shorter supply chains.”

Data from the BDO High Street Sales Tracker recently suggested that retail sales have grown at their lowest rate since February 2021 as high inflation and the deepening cost-of-living crisis deters consumers.

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