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Online sales in April ‘impressive’ despite high street reopening

Online clothing sales were up by 60.9% overall, against a decline of -25.1% last year, and womenswear reported growth as high as 98.9%

Online retail sales have continued to grow in April, rising 10.2% year-on-year, despite the reopening of the high street and against strong figures for April 2020.

According to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, there was still some evidence of the impact of shops reopening in its month-on-month data, which showed a decline of -12% from March.

Online clothing sales were up by 60.9% overall, against a decline of -25.1% last year, and womenswear reported growth as high as 98.9%.

Nonetheless, there was 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: “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.”

He added: “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 of Retail Insight, Capgemini: “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%.”

She added: “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.”

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