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May 14, 2020

UK lockdown sends online clothing sales tumbling

Online clothing sales in the UK fell for a second consecutive month in April, the country's first full month under lockdown, with the largest declines in menswear and footwear, new figures show.

By Beth Wright

Online clothing sales in the UK fell for a second consecutive month in April, the country’s first full month under lockdown, with the largest declines in menswear and footwear, new figures show.

While overall online growth surged to a ten-year high in April, up 23.8% year-on-year, the story was not quite so positive for the clothing sector, which felt the impact of Covid-19 on its monthly sales for the second time as they sunk 23.8% from last year, according to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online performance of more than 200 retailers.

Within this, footwear and menswear sales were particularly poor, down 31.1% and 33.5% respectively.

The decline comes amid a “seismic shift” in purchasing patterns as consumers were forced to shop online as the nationwide lockdown led to the temporary closure of brick and mortar stores.

After recording higher growth than their online-only counterparts for the first time in a year in March, multichannel retailers continued to benefit from consumers’ changing shopping habits – with sales up 35% versus online-only retailers’ more modest rise of 8.3%.

The unusually hot April weather, combined with lockdown, triggered a “monumental” rise in online gardening sales, while electrical sales also remained high, likely indicative of remote working requirements and demand for at-home entertainment as consumers navigate home isolation.

“April’s data shows that demand is following a very logical pattern – with stores closed, people who would usually shop in physical locations have no choice but to switch online. Hence it is the multichannel retailers who are securing the very strong growth at the moment, though whether it will be enough to entirely offset the loss of sales from those stores seems unlikely,” Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG said. “This is only true for some categories though; even with stores closed, online growth for multichannel clothing retailers is still down 17.5%. The demand just isn’t there at the moment.

“When that demand will return is a big question for clothing retailers. If they reopen stores – and take their staff out of furlough, bringing all the costs back into the business – but their customers don’t return quickly, there could be a very difficult period coming indeed.”

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant at Retail Insight, Capgemini, adds: “Covid-19 has reshaped consumer spending patterns and shopping habits, which has been accentuated by the significant online growth in April. Customers have to become accustomed to turning to online to fulfill shopping needs as non-essential retailers remained closed. However, despite the positive figures, it begs the question whether this is enough to make up for the full impact of Covid-19 performance particularly for the fashion sector which is still losing out as customers are purchasing for new environments rather than fashion.

“We are also starting to see a differential by retail tier, with mid-market losing out to budget retailers, a trend to watch as consumers seek value for money in uncertainty, however, on the other hand we are likely to see consumers looking for brand trust and quality. This can result in a squeeze in the mid-tier where appealing to both needs has been traditionally harder to balance. Retailers will need to listen to their customers, and find new ways to become increasingly transparent, flexible and innovative in order to navigate the rocky and uncertain road ahead.”

Yesterday (13 May), the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said clothing was one of the worst hit areas when it came to online shopping

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