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Browsing not buying? UK e-sales growth slows but beauty remains a winner

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today Dec 19, 2018
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The lowest November growth in online sales since 2011 was the headline news from the latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index on Wednesday. It was yet more evidence that the Christmas shopping season is likely to have been a weak one as the decline in store sales is clearly not being made up for by booming webstore turnover.


Shoppers may have gone online in large numbers but sales growth slowed



The report said online retail sales increased by only 8.1% year-on-year last month. Despite Asos saying only this week that trading has been difficult, it seems that pureplay e-tailers managed to outperform the webstores of physical chains with growth of 11.6% for the former and only 6.3% for the latter.

IMRG said “Black Friday discounting failed to rejuvenate consumer spending across the month and relieve the recent struggles for UK retailers.”

As well as being worse than previous Novembers, the month’s sales growth also fell below the three-, six-, and 12-month averages. Online retail had previously appeared resilient compared to the struggles experienced on the high street and for the first half of this year, growth was running at almost double last month’s figure. But that November slowdown shows that it’s “now being impacted by the tough trading climate.”

The report gave no specific figures for the fashion sector, although we have to assume that it didn’t turn in a great performance. But not all categories were sluggish with health & beauty “the main beneficiary of Black Friday, achieving an impressive 25.1% growth year-on-year and an increase of 95.5% from October.” 

But the gift category, which we’s expect to have been strong, was actually down 10.3% compared to last year.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director as IMRG, said: “Black Friday was underwhelming from a revenue perspective this year and there are multiple reasons why. There is economic and political stability potentially impacting shopper confidence, plus the possibility that people might be fatigued with the event – a factor compounded by negative stories released in the run-up.

“One thing that is clear, heavy discounting had been going on far in advance of Black Friday, which lessens retailers’ capacity for grabbing attention by going into sale. Did the sheer scale of the discount rates suppress revenue? Or is the overall peak spend getting more evenly spread throughout the Christmas build-up this year, due to Black Friday falling so early in November before many people had been paid? It’s a very complicated story this year, but the duration and depth of discounting rates are likely to be very significant.”

Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement at Capgemini added: “Despite high conversion this month where all weeks saw an increase in orders, the drop in average basket value has impacted the sales growth, suggesting that extended promotions have had an impact on revenue this year.

“The evolution of Black Friday has shaken up the Christmas sales landscape over the last decade, however, the discounting snowball effect may be losing momentum as retailers try to regain control and extend the demand across the festive period. We saw a mix of strategies from retailers; from kick-starting offers early in the health & beauty sector, compared to a number of high-profile retailers who made a stand and pulled out of Black Friday altogether to protect their margins and pricing strategy. December performance and end-of-year profits will be the true measure of who has gained and lost in the discounting game this year.”

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