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Online retail sales slump to lowest ever growth rate

Tom Bottomley
29 July 2019

According the latest IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index, online retail sales for the first half of 2019 are up by just 5.4% year on year, comparing to a rise of 16.9% for the first six months of 2018.

Despite a sales boost in June, when online clothing sales increased by 15.7% year on year, it wasn’t enough to save online retail in the first half of 2019, and it’s the lowest ever growth rate recorded for the first half year. IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Indextracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers with a combined annual spend of £28bn.

This slowdown in growth was broadly reflected across the sectors, with all but three recording reduced but still positive increases. Health & beauty was up 13%, home & garden was up 9.3%, and clothing was +7.3%. Clothing in particular is having a substantially better Q2 (+11.2% year on year growth) than Q1 (+2.6% year on year), due to the hot weather and retailers starting their summer sales early. Lingerie, however, was -8.9% year on year.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “In this country we have a tendency to regard online retail and physical retail on high streets as being completely separate. It’s an idea that has been fed over the past few years by the consistent growth in online even as the high street struggled. What we are now seeing is that they are not separate at all, but in fact deeply interconnected – hence growth in the first half of 2019 was the lowest yet recorded.

“That said, from an online sales growth perspective it is the multichannel retailers at +5.2% for January - June 2019 who are currently experiencing lower growth than the online-only retailers at +7.4%. It may be that the old perception of getting better value online still persists, and that shoppers associate high street retailers with the highest chance of falling into administration, so they are having to work even harder than their online-only competitors to build sales.”

Mulcahy also noted that with so much media coverage of well-known retailers announcing profit warnings and store closures, customer confidence in shopping with them is low. This then forces them into heavy discounting to drive sales and their competitors get dragged into it too. It has now become so widespread that shoppers are used to the wide availability of discounts.

Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement at Capgemini, added: “If this year continues to mirror performance of last year, we can hope for a stronger second half. 

“However, with Brexit happening just before peak period, and still uncertainty around what it will bring, we cannot know whether the index will recover or growth under 10% will be the new norm, at least for this year. Caution and volatility within the market remain for the foreseeable.


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