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Online clothes sales plunge amid lockdown

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

As the Government’s new ‘home isolation rules’ came into force throughout March, the fashion industry was sent into a whirlwind of unprecedented uncertainty, according to new data.

Reaching stability? Online retail sales drop eases in July

In a month where Spring buying would typically set in, online clothing sales were down -23.1% Year-on-Year (YoY), according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers. Digging deeper into fashion sales, menswear was down a staggering -42.9% and footwear was down -32.8%.

Key findings:

• Online sales growth for clothing was down -23.1% Year-on-Year (YoY) in March • Overall growth was also down -5.1% YoY, however up +2.6% Month-on-Month (MoM) • Despite a disappointing start to the year, March’s results still fell far below the 12-, 6- and 3-month rolling averages (+4.5%, +6.7% and -2.1% respectively) • Last month saw multichannel retailers outperform online only for the first time since April 2019 – recording a dip of just -4.0% vs. -5.5% YoY

Indicative of a very mixed set of results on a category level, the warmer weather and increased amount of time spent in the garden during the lockdown sent online garden sales soaring to +94.4% YoY. Beauty also continued to build on strong February sales, spiking to +36.0%, while electricals recorded March’s third standout performance – surging by +40.2%. In fact, during week 2 of the month when the Government raised the outbreak risk from moderate to high, electrical retailers saw sales jump by +47.7% YoY as consumers turned to home entertainment and raced to set up their offices.

With the category results doing their best to balance each other out, the overall growth for March limped in at -5.1% YoY – well below the 12-, 6- and 3-month rolling averages (+4.5%, +6.7% and -2.1% respectively) but still above last month’s performance by +2.6% (MoM). Perhaps marking the start of stockpiling, March started off with poor online sales for the first fortnight, but seemed to recover in weeks 3 and 4 following the Government’s announcement of official home isolation rules on March 17.

Meanwhile as they are forced to shift more operations into the digital sphere, multichannel retailers outperformed their online only counterparts for the first time since April 2019, recording growth of -4.0% versus -5.5%.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini: “Online sales performance this month is a mixed story, as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges. ‘Non-essential’ stores closed their doors on the high street which led to the majority of multichannel retailers gaining a boost in online performance in the latter half of the month as consumers channelled their demand into digital.

“However, the changing demand and customer needs has also polarised impacts on different product categories where the appetite for fashion dropped off significantly compared to garden, home and electrical which are seeing unusually high demand as we spend more time at home.

“Next month we are likely to see a continued rise in online demand however it has never been more important to listen to consumer needs to respond to new spending patterns, communicate in a way that resonates with the concerns and needs of customers and using datapoints to inform next steps as we navigate through the changes”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: “There is a bit of a myth going round at the moment that online sales are booming. It’s more accurate to say some online retailers are experiencing huge demand, outstripping even that seen over Black Friday, because so many people are in the exact same situation – ie stuck at home. That has created very lopsided demand among product categories.

“People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down. How and when a stronger balance in demand might be established is a pressing question for retailers currently on the wrong side of that divide.”


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