Online retail on growth path after two years of decline


  • In May 2023, UK online retail sales reported a -1.2% Year-on-Year decline

  • Month-on-Month, the total market increased +2.4% from April

  • Overall orders experienced growth (+2.1%) for the first time since peak season trading

  • Clothing saw revenue growth in the final week of May after 12 weeks of declines

  • Bank holidays and communal celebrations were major influences on e-commerce growth

Despite consistent declines in Year-on-Year (YoY) online retail revenue performance, in May the total market geared closer to positive-territory growth (-1.2%). That is according to IMRG’s Online Retail Index which tracks the online sales performance of 200 retailers.

It was a promising month for the market, as it rose +2.4% from April. King Charles III’s coronation and three bank holidays are likely causes for this growth. Growth so far in 2023 (Jan-May) is running at -2.8%, in line with the 3% IMRG forecast at the start of the year – if things continue in line with expectation positive growth should return by the final quarter of the year.

Signs that customers were more inspired to purchase this month were evident across key ecommerce metrics such as orders. For the first time since November, orders for the total market saw an increase, at +2.1%. The difference between orders in May versus the peak season of November was 0.7%, signalling that customers are not experiencing as much buyer hesitancy. Despite the rain in the UK, there were some days that were brighter than customers are used to, and trends suggest that better weather inspires more online shopping.

Clothing, for instance, has seen revenue declines for the last six months but experienced growth in the final week of May (+3.3%) as the warmer weather appeared. UK customers might be purchasing more weather-appropriate items as heatwaves approach.

The three bank holidays and subsequent garden parties explain why the product subcategory garden furnishings saw a +36.7% YoY revenue growth after considerable declines. Numerous budget retailers offering homeware and decorations products saw revenue growth in May (+1.3% YoY), with budget being the single market tier to experience an uptick for this subcategory. Many customers may have purchased low-priced memorabilia decorations for the coronation.

Says Andy Mulcahy, Strategy & Insight Director, IMRG:

“Good news has been in short supply for online retail since the pandemic growth booms came to an end, and certainly conversion on sites remains suppressed across most categories. The bank holidays produced a notable uplift in spend though, particularly the week leading up to the coronation, where the amount of money spent online increased by +10.5% on the week previous, then did not fall away too dramatically afterwards.

“Clothing was the category keeping growth down, but the weather has been pretty awful up to this point – now the hotter weather has arrived we might see some better demand that could push us toward positive growth sooner in the year than expected.”

Chris Price
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