UK online sales growth remained solid throughout December, coming in at +37% Year-on-Year (YoY) for the month and driving the annual figure to a staggering 13-year high. That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers. Closing a turbulent year, which was underscored by high street closures and massive restrictions on the consumer way of life, 2020 brought online retail to the fore like never before – explaining why the full year growth figure of +36% (YoY) significantly outperformed the start-of-year prediction of +7.8% (YoY).
As the UK navigated a series of tiered lockdowns, online retail sales in December defied forecasts of a poor Christmas trading period. With sales starting early and Christmas travel plans halted, online shopping continued the momentum it had built throughout the quarter – with sales up 37.6%, across the three months. This was largely driven by November’s peak performance of +39% YoY and the Black Friday sales period.
Breaking down the results from a category perspective, the holiday period drove significant sales in electricals – up +116% (YoY). As firmer restrictions were put in place and people continued to meet outside, gardening sales were also strong for December – up +165% YoY. These figures round-off an extremely successful year for both categories, with electrical sales up +90.8% YoY and garden sales up + 222.5%. Meanwhile as social interactions dwindled throughout the year, poor December clothing sales of +3.2% YoY failed to boost the yearly figure of just +1.3%. This was down from 8.2% in 2019. Footwear was particularly hard hit, down -5% YoY in December and -10.8% overall in 2020.
Other notable spending trends in December include the widening of the gap between multichannel and online only retailer performance – with the two groups recording figures of (+52.4%) and (+11.4%) respectively. The yearly results echoed this pattern, showing overall sales growth of +57% vs. +9.1%
Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini: “Retail in 2020 has been fundamentally shaped by the pandemic, which caused disruption to consumer demand norms and a shift in focus to digital channels; reflected in the strongest online Year-onYear growth in 13 years. December sales closed the year with continued double digit growth, up +37%, amid mixed lockdown tiers across the UK. Throughout the year, multichannel retailers have driven a large amount of this growth due to the transfer of demand to online, up +57%. Interestingly, pure online retailers ended the year at +9.1% for 2020, compared to 9.8% last year, though the story remains split by the sector demand shift away from clothing and increasing in electricals, home and garden. We have also seen smaller retailers outperform the larger ones, perhaps due to the ability to be more agile in response to the changes.
“Learnings from 2020 will be crucial as we navigate the uncertainties this year and a sense of a new baseline will take a while to be established. Retailers best set to ride out the storm are those with a strong online presence and the ability to remain nimble, using demand sensing to react to the changing landscape and adapt to surges both instore and online, combined with a readiness to take on opportunities as they come in 2021.”
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: “At the start of each year we usually provide a forecast for online sales growth for the coming year. In 2020 things changed rapidly, and it makes predicting 2021 extremely difficult. We could end up with a year where significant pandemic disruption lasts for the first quarter, the first half, or most of the year; shopper spend might divert strongly to experiences and holidays if things open up again; the economic situation might lead to a squeeze on spend; the list of potential macro variables goes on.
“As it is so uncertain, some datasets are going to look odd this year and we think putting a forecast out would not be useful. This might be a year where we have to adjust our understanding of what good looks like. For example: while growth in Q1 will probably look similar to previous lockdown rates, from April in 2020 those rates were extremely high and will be hard to build upon. If a category was up +120% one month in 2020, recording a drop of -20% for that same month in 2021 might actually be considered a reasonable result.”