E-fashion sales strong in March but unpredictable customer behaviour ahead
But first, the general figures. In a tough period, overall UK online retail sales fell 25.5% year-on-year in March, up against high growth of 57% in March 2021.
And importantly, the report came with a warning that there’s a “general sense among retailers that customer behaviour is becoming increasingly unpredictable”.
It noted that “there are strong headwinds facing the sector, with cost-of-living pressures and record high fuel prices affecting consumer confidence as well as increasing operational and supply costs for retailers”.
However, it said month-on-month trading patterns appear to be in line with expectations for this time of year so far, with some weeks weaker than expected and others stronger. And it added that “without the anomalous pandemic growth for comparison, [April’s] data will reveal a clearer indication of what growth is really looking like”.
The index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, showed month-on-month growth has crept back into the positive – coming in at +5% versus the previous month’s -7.7%. This is exactly where it was in 2019 before the pandemic disrupted the metric. Meanwhile the average basket volume (ABV) has climbed by £15, now standing at £136.
At a category level, womenswear and menswear continue to exhibit positive growth (+20% and +14% respectively), while the rest of the categories show poor year-on-year changes – ranging from -2% in footwear to -44% in homeware and decorations.
Lucy Gibbs, senior manager, retail lead for analytics & AI, Capgemini, said: “Despite the continued sales dip, online appears to be maintaining an increased share of the market two years since the pandemic began.
While retailers are doing what they can to mitigate against price increases, we have already started to see the impact on certain products, such as electricals and the overall average value of a basket continues to trend up, 12% vs February.”
She also added that order volume has also dropped to a new low of -42%, “potentially indicating that purchases are already becoming more considered. Weathering this storm will require tuning in to consumer reactions, where value for money will be at the forefront of decision making.”
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, added: “Many retailers are reporting volatile traffic and sales spikes to us, with very little consistency in when one retailer does well and another badly.
“Retailers also report having to employ strategies such as discounts and offers to stop sales dropping, so while the index isn’t tracking major fluctuations, behind the scenes things are more frenetic than they seem; there is consistency in the inconsistency.”
Interestingly, Mulcahy noted that this year’s Black Friday, on 25 November, is the same day that England play USA in the football World Cup tournament.
“Retail has never faced the distraction of the biggest global sports event before in the lead-up to Christmas, especially on the most significant e-commerce day of the year, but that could be a big factor disrupting it.”
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