January online sales go into reverse, but fashion was strong
January saw another slowdown for online retail sales with the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index — which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 e-tailers — showing the worst growth figures ever recorded with a decline of 24.4%.
But coming up against a boom in January 2021 when the UK was in lockdown, that reversal is no surprise. And at least fashion performed well.
E-sales have understandably slowed since the pandemic when webstores were the only option for consumers buying non-essential goods.
2021 had ended with 2.7% total growth in the market, which was the lowest annual growth rate ever. Continuing this pattern, January 2022’s drop is a direct result of retailers competing against a staggering growth rate of 61.8% in locked-down January 2021.
Fast-forward 12 months and not only are retailers up against this steep growth rate, but restrictions have been lifted, enabling consumers to carry out as much in-person shopping as they want.
Online retailers that assumed the e-sales growth rate would continue at levels closer to those seen during lockdowns and post-lockdown periods seem to have come unstuck. News this week of Studio Retail preparing to call in administrators after over-ordering January stock on assumptions of stronger trading only underlined what happened across the wider industry last month.
But while January seems to have been a weak month at a headline level, average spend was actually up over £20 year-on-year, although part of this could have been due to inflation that was running close to 5%.
Breaking the index’s figures down further, the average basket value (ABV) rose to £115 in January after dropping to £106 in December. In the first half of 2021 the ABV saw huge increases, but it had been falling since August. January was the first month since then that it has started to go back up again.
At a category level, fashion saw the highest rate of growth in January, with clothing up 5.4% year-on-year, and womenswear (+25.2%), menswear (+16%) and footwear (+19.4%) all reporting positive performances.
The same was not true, however, for the rest of the categories IMRG tracks. Those with the poorest growth included skincare, which was down 48.2%, make-up (-45.7%), and electricals (-36.7%).
Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insight Director at IMRG, said: “The first quarter of 2021 had a severe lockdown in place which drove huge online growth, so the year-on-year comparisons for the early months in 2022 are going to be harshly negative as a consequence. This can make it seem like online sales are in freefall, whereas actually it is just a natural rationalisation of the 50%-60% increases we saw this time last year.”
Lucy Gibbs, Senior Manager, Retail lead for Analytics & AI at Capgemini, added: “January was mixed story for retail; our Online Index reported the largest YoY fall in sales ever, and the high street claimed the opposite. This is due to the now familiar Yin Yang effect on YoY revenues when comparing to last year’s lockdown store closures. As we emerge from the pandemic, the annual results will start to normalise and 2022 will hopefully bring a much more stable trading period, however the outlook still remains uncertain as we realise the fall out of economic and logistical challenges from the last two years.
“The drop in orders this month is greater than revenue as ABV has increased by 24%. This could be an early indicator of increased prices, reflecting the ongoing supply chain disruption and underlying cost challenges. The major purchase index has also fallen four points (GSK) in January, as economic pressures add to consumer concerns. Capturing share of wallet amongst increasing bills and also pent-up demand for travel, events and eating out will continue to prove to be the focus as we navigate 2022.”
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