ParcelHero: are hard-pressed department stores finally getting hang of online?

April’s ONS retail statistics show overall sales down 0.3% against March, with High Street  department stores sales shrinking 0.7%. But in a rare glimpse of hope, their online sales soared 12.4%

Today’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) retail sales figures reveal a mixed picture for April, says the home delivery expert ParcelHero. Overall sales were up 5.2% YOY, but down 0.3% against March. Online sales continued their remorseless climb, up 10.1% YOY.

Says ParcelHero’s head of consumer research, David Jinks: “While the value of Britain’s beleaguered department stores’ sales have fallen by 0.7% in the last three months, there is a chink of light for some of our favourite High Street names. Department stores’ online sales grew an impressive 12.4%. This could be a sign that they are at last getting to grips with e-commerce.

“Department stores have some huge advantages they are finally making the most of, such as offering BOPUS – Buy Online, Pick Up in Store. And they still have a hardcore base of loyal customers who like purchasing from names they know. It looks like things could finally be coming together for their online stores; and that could secure them against future town centre decline.”

But Jinks warns there is still much work to be done: “Summer’s coming and consumers may be thinking of new fridges and freezers for ice cream and chilled drinks. In the not so distant past, we’d all have planned a visit to a department store to buy one: today buying them online is more convenient. But while John Lewis has succeeded in extending its reputation for quality service for shop sales to its online service, it’s been obvious that the likes of Debenhams and House of Fraser have had trouble enticing shop visitors over to their sites. That’s because their online stores are confusing and unintegrated when it comes to buying larger items.

 ‘Try to buy a freezer from Debenhams and you are taken away from its own site to Debenhams – a white label site ran by a completely different company: Buy It Direct. It’s so clunky your existing shopping basket is left behind, and Debenhams’ account card and gift cards are not accepted. A far from seamless purchasing experience compared for that given purchasing larger items such as fridge-freezers on John Lewis site or dining tables from M&S’ site.”

But at least Debenhams is trying, says Jinks: “Try to get a freezer from House of Fraser’s site and you’ll find nothing bigger than a food processor is available.”

Concludes Jinks: “Department stores might be finally halting their long-term slide by better use of their internet sites. But for some, there is still a deal of work to do.”

For more information on the impact of e-commerce on the High Street, and how UK retailers can restore the fortunes of our city centres, see ParcelHero’s retail industry report at: