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Online sales fall flat in January following late 2019 surge

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

After a surprisingly strong Christmas sales period, retailer hopes of a continuation of such growth into 2020 were dashed in January, with online retail sales growth dropping back to -0.4% Year-on-Year (YoY), according to new data.

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The findings come from latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

In a month where almost 10,000 jobs were reportedly lost within the sector, these figures indicate potentially troubling times ahead for retail over the next twelve months as the otherwise subdued demand from 2019 continues.

  • Following November’s standout performance, online sales rose by +9.4% Year-on-Year in December

  • This growth brings 2019 to a more positive end after a difficult start – with H2 sales growth beating out H1 by +7.6% vs. +5.4%

  • Online only retailers performed significantly better than their multichannel counterparts, with sales growth of +10% vs. +5.9%

  • Despite the boost, online retail sales growth for the full year hit an all-time low, up +6.7% vs. +11.8% in 2018

  • Forecast for online sales growth in 2020: 7.8%

Breaking down the results, there were a few positive stories at a category level. After a consistently strong 2019, beauty continued to be one of the best performers in January, though its growth of +7.1% was relatively subdued in comparison to its average growth of +23.3% in 2019. Meanwhile both home and clothing also saw increases of +6.1% and +3.1% respectively.

Unfortunately, that was largely where the positivity ended. In perhaps the strongest indication of the Black Friday effect and the impact of end-of-year discounting on the traditional January sales period, electricals sales plummeted from their first positive performance in over two years in December 2019 (+11.9%) to -17.7% in January.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: “2019 was an odd year for online sales in the sense that demand was weak for most of the year – particularly over the summer – but then growth throughout November was very strong and December was better-than-expected too. It’s hard to see why that kind of peak trading would cap such a poor year, so the question was whether that represented a turnaround in demand – given the greater certainty emerging in the political environment during that period – or an anomaly, probably driven by discounting.

“It seems that we now have our answer. Flat growth to start the year, against a modest growth rate of +7% in January 2019 (which itself was the lowest for January in three years) suggests that it wasn’t just uncertainty over Brexit that was suppressing spend; the real reasons are likely to be multiple and diverse, requiring fundamental appraisals of retailer propositions to ensure they are well set up for success in this fast-changing market.”

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini: “A flat January has fallen below expectations after the brighter festive period at the end of last year, despite consumers reporting feeling more upbeat about the UK economic prospects.

“Interestingly, budget retailers were seeing more favourable results and outperformed the mid-market players in the clothing and health and beauty sectors, which had positive results this month. For clothing this has been an increasing divide over the second half of 2019. Consumers are remaining cautious as we start the year and are seeking value for money. Combine this with a rise in demand for sustainable shopping, will the gradual increase in consumer confidence be reflected in spending patterns as the year goes on?”


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