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The government imposed lockdown in the UK has sent online clothes sales spiralling, according to research from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index.

The Index tracks the online performance of more than 200 retailers. During March, the first month under which the UK has been lockdown, it recorded a 23.1% year-on-year fall in online clothing sales. Specifically, menswear was down 42.9% and footwear was down 32.8%.

Conversely, the warmer weather saw online sales of gardening goods increase as did electrical following the government’s warning early in March as consumers turned to home entertainment and raced to set up their home offices.

Overall, online sales growth for March fell 5.1% year on year.

Meanwhile, as they are forced to shift more operations into the digital sphere, multichannel retailers outperformed their online-only counterparts for the first time since April 2019, recording growth of -4% versus -5.5%.

“Online sales performance this month is a mixed story, as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges,” says Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant Retail Insight, Capgemini, says. “‘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 have 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.

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“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, adds: “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.”