UK online retail experienced its worst month of sales growth ever in November, falling by a 19.8% year-on-year, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

While this does compare to a strong November 2020 (+36.2%), the month-on-month  figures for retail were equally negative – showing a rise of 40.4% versus the 50% rise that would typically be expected for the October to November timeframe.

Digging into the results further, there is evidence that consumers are both buying less often and spending less when they do, with the conversion rate down by 20% year-on-year to 3.3% and average basket value (ABV) falling to GBP123 (versus its 2021 peak of GBP149).

With high street sales up, it is perhaps unsurprising that of the retailer types, multichannel brands suffered the most – with their sales plummeting by 23.4% compared to 13.4% for online-only retailers.

Meanwhile, every category bar clothing saw double-digit negative growth. The sector saw online sales edge up 0.4% on last year.

“The drop in online sales this year is not unexpected however the month-on-month figures suggest that spending overall has been even more subdued. Multichannel retailers were hit the hardest, down 23.4%, but online-only retailers also suffered, down 13.4% due to the drop in overall traffic online,” says Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant, retail lead for analytics and AI at Capgemini.

“While a return to in-person shopping has taken a large share of the spend, other factors such as supplier shortages and delivery disruption have also caused retailers to spread and dilute some of the offers, which could be behind the decrease in conversion by 20% across November.”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG adds: “In retail, we are often prone to focusing on the negatives, but there is no escaping that November’s performance was very poor. The most concerning thing is that traffic was the problem, shoppers were just not visiting retailers’ sites in their usual volumes. To an extent, that could be explained by people taking to big high street locations again, but the next few weeks will be very interesting in that respect.

“There does seem to be an attitude of ‘getting it in before we get locked down’ at the moment, but from next week people will not want to go anywhere to avoid having to isolate over Christmas. We will, from a retail perspective, be in a lockdown in all but name which will really skew trading figures.”