Online sales in the UK increased in July 2023, despite overall retail sales falling by 2.6% as wet weather and the cost of living continue to trouble customers, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Shoppers in the UK are increasingly choosing to shop online, with 27.4% of all retail sales in the country now taking place online in July 2023. This is the highest proportion since February 2022. The ONS says that 11p of every £1 spent online in the UK is now spent at textile, clothing and footwear retailers.

Poor weather in the UK and increased online promotions were also said to be drivers of the shift towards online shopping in the first half of 2023. Supermarkets also reported a fall in clothing sales due to the conditions.

After non-food stores saw a small increase in sales volumes of 0.6% in June 2023, they fell by 1.7% in July, as weather conditions in country reduced footfall.

Commenting on the figures, Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, says: “July’s poor weather dampened retail sales, with spend stalling in areas such as clothing and footwear and household goods. Weakening consumer confidence also impacted purchases of big-ticket items as customers continued to spend more cautiously, especially for computing and furniture. Meanwhile, sales for books and stationery performed better.

“Retailers are hopeful that the coming months will provide a boost to spending, as England fans celebrate the Women’s Football World Cup Final this weekend, families start their back-to-school shopping and university students ready themselves for the new academic year. Nonetheless, the economic backdrop will remain difficult, and Government must find ways to create an environment that fosters economic growth.”

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However, the ONS also says there are signs that the shift towards online shopping seen during the pandemic are now becoming permanent.

Reconomy, a waste management company, says its analysis of ONS shows that online clothing sales in the UK hit a record high of £.17bn in the first half of 2023.

It says the ONS figures show an increase from the £1.58bn average weekly online sales seen in the second half of 2022. It also surpasses the previous all-time high of £1.67bn in the first half of 2021, which saw a surge of online fashion shopping due to the pandemic.

Reconomy’s managing director Claire Webb says that the growth of online shopping swelled in the pandemic, but this has now become embedded in shopper behaviour. She says: “The shift to online poses challenges for fashion for brands and changes the cost of ownership, shifting price points and pressures from bricks, mortar and warehouses to an increasingly fluid supply chain spanning global export centres and deployment centres.”

The ONS says the shift towards online sales requires apparel brands to re-assess their sustainability processes as this increased focus on online sales will make consumers more conscious of brands’ sustainability practices.

As a result of this more permanent shift towards online shopping, Webb believes that apparel brands and retailers will need to demonstrate the sustainability of their supply chains and materials. She adds: “Clothes need to be transported efficiently to maximise the efficiency of logistics, returns are processed sustainably and textiles are either recycled or reused. With customers becoming more and more conscious over where and how they shop, ESG is core to fashion brands’ commercial aims.”

In a recent example of these rising concern’s the Asos Sample Sale, a dedicated pop-up website where everything is available for £5 ($6.38), was met with concern over sustainability.

The figures also come shortly after UK retailer Next reported robust trading figures for Q2, with shoppers surpassing the expected spend on clothing, leading the retailer to issue a second revised profit guidance within just over six weeks.