Online sales growth returns to pre-pandemic levels

News, Retail

New analysis from IMRG has revealed that, for all the tumult of the past few years, online sales have actually grown by a similar amount that might have been expected if there was no pandemic.

This analysis is drawn from the IMRG Online Retail Index, which tracks online sales for 200 retailers on a sample size of £23bn in 2022.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic, growth for the total online market was +5% year-on-year (YoY). In 2020, the year when the lockdowns first started, it rocketed up to +35%; a rate of increase so vast that many retailers struggled to cope with such a sudden upturn in volume.

Since then, growth has been negative each month since April 2021 (with the exception of November 2022, when growth was less than 1%) and 2022 as a whole was down -10.5% YoY. The comparison of non-lockdown against lockdown periods has made it hard to determine how things have actually changed.

However, when the value of the index in 2022 is compared to 2019, the overall market is up +17% which, averaged out over those three years, represents an average rate of growth of +5.7% per year – firmly in line with the pre-pandemic growth rate.

Interestingly, the clothing category is currently running at +25% ahead of its 2019 value; this category had a different experience than the other sectors in the index in that it hardly recorded any growth during the pandemic year of 2020, but has made up for it subsequently. 

Says Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG:

“From an online retail value perspective, we might ask ‘pandemic, what pandemic?’ There was a train of thought that suggested existing trends had been accelerated by a decade in the space of a few weeks, but it has become apparent that we are creatures of habit and change simply doesn’t happen at that scale, at that speed.

“It is probably fair to say that the market is a bit better off than might have been expected if there was no pandemic; the rate of growth had been generally coming down over a period of years so it could have run at lower than +5% per year otherwise possibly.

“The cost-of-living crisis has caused a real shift in shopping behaviour, with conversion on retail sites dropping away markedly throughout 2022. If there was no Ukraine conflict, could more of that volume have been retained? We’ll never know of course, but the impact of the lockdowns on online retail now looks like a historical blip.”

The IMRG Online Retail Index, which was started in April 2000, tracks ‘online sales’, which it defines as ‘transactions completed fully, including payment, via interactive channels’ from any location.

Chris Price
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