Mar 20, 2019
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UK fashion gets no uplift despite surging e-tail in February, omnichannel is key

Mar 20, 2019

Online retail in the UK enjoyed a warm weather boost in February as a mini heatwave sent the e-tail sales rise easily above the averages seen in the last few months, according to the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index. And omnichannel retailers, for once, seemed to have a better time of it than the pureplay e-tailers that have been their bêtes noires for the last few years.

UK e-shoppers weren't very interested in fashion last month

Online retail sales increased by 9.4% year-on-year in February with the three-month average having been a rise of 6.3% and the six-month average being +7.4%. However, even with February's uplift, the 12-month average is still +11.1%, showing that the latest six months have remained tough.

Looking more closely at February, the warm weather seen during the four weeks included the hottest February day on record. While the boost this gave to retail was largely enjoyed by the garden sector, health & beauty also seemed to benefit and saw sales rising 13.4%.

But fashion didn't get much of a lift as we assume consumers held back from buying warm weather clothing on the assumption that there were still chilly temperatures to come. And of course, stores were full of coats and sweaters so clothing spend was up only 0.9%. 

And some other categories that might have been expected to rise in the month that included Valentine's Day actually fell quite badly. The gifts category was down 27.6% and electricals fell 15.4%, presumably suffering from the generally weak consumer market.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, said: “Discounting had been very widespread across retail since July 2018, owing to the difficult and unique trading environment that retailers are facing. Following January clearance, many either switched off discounting or at least reduced the prominence of it – and it’s the multichannel retailers that seem to have navigated the shift more successfully. 

“Those with a high street presence recorded a rate of online sales growth almost three-times greater than their online-only counterparts and the basket values are also revealing; the February average spend on multichannel sites was down 7%, while for online-only retailers it fell more sharply by 17%, suggesting perhaps that they still maintained a greater reliance on discounting.”

Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement, Capgemini, added: “February is usually a transitional month as spring lines take over the shopfloor and clearance continues, especially online. In this regard, it was interesting to see that conversion was up over 20% on the year but sales only grew by 9%. This performance is undoubtedly driven by ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and looming interest rate rises, feeding customer caution. 

“The result is that people keep spending on basics, essentials and discounts in the mainstream, but stop shopping for ‘inspiration’ or at higher price points. This kind of caution is usually seen impacting categories like electricals and gifting. That said, this time last year was also pretty strong for online as the horrendous weather kept people indoors, so any overall growth isn’t all doom and gloom, we hope.”

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