The UK retail lockdown may have sent many consumers to websites in order to buy the products they wanted, but it also sent online fashion sales spiraling downwards, exploding the myth of an online boom, new figures showed on Wednesday.
The latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index showed online clothing sales down 23.1% year-on-year in March, even though overall sales were down only 5.1% and month-on-month they rose 2.6%.
That relatively mild 2.6% increase shows how slowly consumers turned to the internet for their purchases. And following a “disappointing start to the year”, the March figures are a further sign that online retail isn’t exactly booming at present.
While the index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, showed a poor result for fashion, digging deeper into specific categories, some were worse off than others. Menswear, which has been a more buoyant category in UK fashion retail overall, was down a worrying 42.9%. And footwear was down 32.8%, shoes being the last thing people need when they rarely set foot outside their front doors.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the categories that did do well were those that involve home activities and taking advantage of the warm weather. Online garden sales soared 94.4%.
But beauty was also a winning category, continuing to build on strong February sales and spiking to 36%. The index didn’t say exactly which beauty products sold well, but it’s likely that handcare was a standout as consumers bought sanitiser plus hand washes, and hand cream to counteract any drying effects.
Electricals also stood out as consumers adjusted to working from home, rising 40.2%. In week two of the month, electricals actually rose 47.7%.
Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant Retail Insight at Capgemini, said: “Online sales performance this month is a mixed story, as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges. ‘Non-essential’ stores closed their doors on the high street which led to the majority of multichannel retailers gaining a boost in online performance in the latter half of the month as consumers channelled their demand into digital. However, the changing demand and customer needs has also polarised impacts on different product categories where the appetite for fashion dropped off significantly compared to garden, home and electrical which are seeing unusually high demand as we spend more time at home.”
And Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, added: “There is a bit of a myth going around at the moment that online sales are booming. It’s more accurate to say some online retailers are experiencing huge demand, outstripping even that seen over Black Friday, because so many people are in the exact same situation – stuck at home. That has created very lopsided demand among product categories.
“People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down. How and when a stronger balance in demand might be established is a pressing question for retailers currently on the wrong side of that divide.”