Online sales growth still strong but shows signs of slow down, IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index shows

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Online sales growth continued to slowly slide in August, falling against July by -4.1%. While overall sales remained strong – growth was up +43.5% Year-on-Year (YoY) – this result dipped below the rolling three-month average of +49.95%. That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

As the Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative drove people back to the high street, the gap between retailer type continued to widen. In spite of rising footfalls on high streets, multichannel retailers once again outshone their online only counterparts – recording growth of +70.5% YoY compared to +11.4%.

Elsewhere the relaxation of lockdown and hot weather were reflected in sales at a category level. As in-person social activities and restaurant visits increased, clothing sales were up again by +6.8% YoY compared to last month’s more modest rise of +0.6%. During a month of sporadic heatwaves, gardening sales also boomed by +286.1%. Meanwhile, footwear sales continued to spiral, declining by -10.7%.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini, said: “As summer comes to a close, we have seen a slowdown in the growth online and we expect to see some shifts in the category spending as we move into autumn. In particular, clothing seems to be returning to positive growth, boosted by the return to school and offices as well as further mobility, however this may not be enough to capture the total lost sales during the summer pandemic period. Footwear, for example, is the only category to remain in negative growth since March, impacted by events and reduced wear throughout lockdown.

“The disrupted seasonal trends, and higher proportion of spend online has had a disproportionate impact on retailers without diverse product ranges or a strong online offering, and challenges in planning and supply chain. Retailers will need to remain reactive and innovative to prepare for the upcoming months; Government incentives have worked well to ignite spending on the high street, so with low consumer confidence and ongoing economic uncertainty, the discounting period around Black Friday could prove to be significant to regain sales. As many consumers have now shifted online we can also expect a significant growth in e-commerce during the festive period.”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, said: “Now that we are coming out of summer, all attention is inevitably focused on the Black Friday and Christmas period. The big question is just how big Black Friday will be online this year. With most types of business open again, and people being actively encouraged by the Government to return to their offices, are we starting to see some signs of online and offline sales balancing out again?

“The evidence has a big caveat as, while it’s true that the August rate of growth was a bit lower than it had been over the past three months, it doesn’t necessarily mean online growth is slowing down. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme ran through August and had a big take-up, bringing people back to the high street. Now that is finished, will they stay there, or has behaviour evolved more fundamentally than that?”