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Coronavirus fails to spark online boom as fashion sales plummet

The online clothing sector in the UK has suffered during the first month of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, while sectors such as gardening and electricals have seen growth, a new analysis has revealed.

The IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the performance of over 200 retailers, found that online sales in March were down 5.1% year-on-year.

Online clothing sales in March had fallen 23.1% compared to the same period last year. Menswear had suffered particularly badly, falling 42.9%, while footwear fell 32.8%.

The sector may suffer further decline in April as many major clothing retailers, including Next and River Island, have shut down or reduced shipping from their warehouses.

However, sales in the garden sector had nearly doubled, rising 94.4%, while in electricals and beauty they were up 47.7% and 36% respectively.

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 around 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.”