Online retail sales held up well in April, IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index shows

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Despite the reopening of the high street and against strong figures for April 2020 (the first full month of the first lockdown, when growth was +44%), online retail sales continue to grow in April, rising by +10.2% Year-on-Year (YoY). That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers. That said, there was some evidence of the impact of non-essential shops reopening in the Month-on-Month (MoM) data, which showed a decline of -12% from March (a slight decline is typical between March and April, usually around -1%).

April’s results paint a similarly mixed picture at a category level. In the anticipation of sunshine, socialising and summer holidays, clothing sales continued their reversal in fortunes, up +60.9% overall and as high as +98.9% for womenswear.  While this compares to a dramatic drop in sales last year (-25.1%), it does show that people are starting to plan for the end of government restrictions.

On the flip side, April also saw a reduction in health and beauty (-9%), electrical (-3.7%) and garden sales (-13.3%), all of which have been on a run of phenomenal sales since the start of the first government-imposed lockdown. For both electricals and garden, this was the first negative result in 19 and 15 months respectively.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, said: “What impact did the reopening of the high street have on retail? Several large retailers I have spoken to say the first week was amongst the strongest they have seen across online and retail platforms; one even recorded their biggest day ever overall. While online growth might have dropped away from +70-80% between January and March to +10% in April, this is largely as growth rates are now comparing with pandemic-period rates from 2020, which were so strong that it is hard to build upon that performance.

“In January, we mapped out how growth could look if things go relatively well for online, relatively badly, and somewhere in the middle. In April, retail generally seems to have done well, and the rate of online growth is currently somewhere between average and good in that forecast. As people get more options for spending their money in later May and into June, that will provide a sterner test.”

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini, said:“This month’s +10% increase on 2020 is particularly impressive when considering last April’s +44% Year-on-Year growth. It has been over a year since the first UK lockdown therefore growth online on top of this is significant. 

“We can see the impact of the re-opening of the high street when we look at Month-on-Month figures, however, despite the strong growth; we would typically see April compared to March as flat, however this year April is -12.0% lower. This trend can also be seen in retail type, as multichannel retailers dropped to +5.7% growth in April versus last year, whereas online only retailers maintained growth in line with the beginning of the year at +20%.

“Clothing continues to rebound, up +50% and +70% across multichannel and online only respectively as pent-up demand combines with increased consumer confidence. Overall, the story this month is a positive one for retail as we start to emerge from our homes – online remains key, however tough comparators over the next few months will be challenging to match.”