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December boost to poor year for online retail

Tom Bottomley
22 January 2020

According to the latest figures from IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, online retail sales rose +9.4% year-on-year in December.

That followed a standout November, boosting full-year figures which were still at an all-time low level of growth – up +6.7% versus +11.8% in 2018.

December’s growth brought 2019 to a more positive end after a difficult start – with H2 sales growth beating H1 by +7.6% versus +5.4%.

December’s more positive performance was mirrored in a number of categories, with health and beauty increasing by a huge +45.1% and clothing up +9.5%. However, clothing’s performance in December masked a fall in Average Basket Value (ABV) of -17.6% year-on-year. Meanwhile overall ABV for 2019 was down -22.5% versus 2018.

Online only retailers performed significantly better than their multichannel counterparts, with sales growth of +10% versus +5.9%.

Unlike the high street, online retail defied forecasts of poor turnouts during the festive season, with Q4 recording a growth rate of +11.3%. This was largely boosted by November’s peak performance of +16.4% and the slightly later Black Friday sales period.

Comparatively, December’s sales growth fell sharply versus November, however, down -20% month-on-month, which was the greatest December decrease since Black Friday first really grabbed widespread attention in the UK in 2013.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, commented: “If online retail in 2018 was characterised by strong growth in the first half and weak in the second, 2019 is the year when Black Friday quite possibly papered over retail’s cracks.

“Demand was low earlier in the year, particularly over summer, and growth for the year was running at just +4.9% up to October. A solid December, albeit against weak year-on-year growth in 2018, off the back of an explosive November have made the full-year result look much better at +6.7%, lower than our forecast of +9%, but nowhere near as bad as it was looking a few months’ back.”

The forecast for online sales growth in 2020 is +7.8%, and Mulcahy points to “major sporting events galore in 2020,” which could stimulate retail spending.

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