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Online sales growth up 42% in September but “problematic” outlook for Christmas

Tom Bottomley
16 October 2020

Online sales grew year-on-year by +42% in September and +5.35% month-on-month, according to the latest data from the IMRG Online Retail Index, despite varying local lockdown restrictions being reimposed.

The year-on-year increase actually dipped slightly below the six and three-month averages of +44.87% and 43.77% respectively, but was still well above the 12-month average of +25.75.

Following months of poor sales, menswear was up +20.5%. but footwear fared poorly at -6.9%. Health and beauty and home and garden continued to perform well, with sales growing by +78.5% and +76.3% respectively.

Multichannel retailers continued to significantly outperform their online only counterparts, achieving growth of +62.7% versus +19.6%.

As varying lockdown restrictions were reintroduced throughout September, online sales returned to patterns that would be expected this time of year.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant at Retail Insight, Capgemini, said: “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 – leaving an interesting landscape ahead of Christmas.”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, commented: “September marked a new phase in the COVID-19 outbreak as, after three months of easing restrictions and encouraging work, life and social interactions resuming, 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 is seeing much stricter measures come into force across the UK with the new three-tier ‘traffic light’ lockdown system. With rising infection rates and potential for more restrictions, the attractiveness of physical retail may decline further.

Mulcahy added: “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.” 

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 as the ‘golden quarter’ kicks in. 

Gibbs added: “One way to address this could be to spread demand, with some stores notably bringing Christmas ranges forward. It could pay to get ahead of the game this year.”

IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

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