Strong December as online sales hit 13 year high

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Following November’s staggering performance, online retail sales growth in December remained high at 37% Year-on-Year (YoY), driving the annual figure to a staggering 13-year high.

That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers. Closing a turbulent year, which was underscored by high street closures and massive restrictions on the consumer way of life, 2020 brought online retail to the fore like never before – explaining why the full-year growth figure of 36% (YoY) significantly outperformed the start-of-year prediction of 7.8%.
 
As the UK navigated a series of tiered lockdowns, online retail sales in December defied forecasts of a poor Christmas trading period. With sales starting early and Christmas travel plans halted, online shopping continued the momentum it had built throughout the quarter – with sales up 37.6%, across the three months. This was largely driven by November’s peak performance of 39% YoY and the Black Friday sales period.
 
Breaking down the results from a category perspective, the holiday period drove significant sales in electricals – up 116% (YoY). As firmer restrictions were put in place and people continued to meet outside, gardening sales were also strong for December – up 165% YoY. These figures round-off an extremely successful year for both categories, with electrical sales up 90.8% YoY and garden sales up 222.5%.

Meanwhile as social interactions dwindled throughout the year, poor December clothing sales of 3.2% YoY failed to boost the yearly figure of just 1.3%. This was down from 8.2%n in 2019. Footwear was particularly hard hit, down -5% YoY in December and -10.8% overall in 2020.
 
Says Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini: 

“Retail in 2020 has been fundamentally shaped by the pandemic, which caused disruption to consumer demand norms and a shift in focus to digital channels; reflected in the strongest online Year-on-Year growth in 13 years.  December sales closed the year with continued double-digit growth, up 37%, amid mixed lockdown tiers across the UK. Throughout the year, multichannel retailers have driven a large amount of this growth due to the transfer of demand to online, up +57%.

“Interestingly, pure online retailers ended the year at 9.1% for 2020, compared to 9.8% last year, though the story remains split by the sector demand shift away from clothing and increasing in electricals, home and garden.  We have also seen smaller retailers outperform the larger ones, perhaps due to the ability to be more agile in response to the changes.”
 
Adds Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: 

“At the start of each year we usually provide a forecast for online sales growth for the coming year. In 2020 things changed rapidly, and it makes predicting 2021 extremely difficult. 

“As it is so uncertain, some datasets are going to look odd this year and we think putting a forecast out would not be useful. This might be a year where we have to adjust our understanding of what good looks like. For example: while growth in Q1 will probably look similar to previous lockdown rates, from April in 2020 those rates were extremely high and will be hard to build upon.”
 

Chris Price
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