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March e-retail sales continue growth

By Retail Technology | Tuesday April 16 2013

Cold weather no barrier to online shopping, as clothing sales grow year-on-year, while m-commerce experiences its strongest growth since November 2012

The cold weather that so affected High Street footfall recently was not a factor for online retail sales in the UK last month.

The IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index found March sales rose 16% year-on-year, closing out the first quarter with a 15% increase on the same period in 2012, which exceeded earlier expectations of 12%.

Clothing beats the big freeze

Online clothing sales performed particularly well in March. Despite a disappointing start to spring, with parts of the country experiencing the highest March snowfall in 30 years, the online clothing sector recorded growth of 15% year-on-year. 

This contrasts with the findings of the latest monthly Retail Traffic Index (RTI), compiled by Ipsos Retail Performance. It found retail footfall was 5.3% down on the same period last year – significantly weaker than the 2.0% decline recorded in the last quarter of 2012. 

Andrew McClelland, chief operations and policy officer at IMRG, stated: “Unseasonal weather patterns can impact some online retail sectors just as much as on the High Street so, with the freezing weather in March, it was a real surprise to see the clothing sector up by 15% year-on-year. 

“In 2012 for example, we saw the wettest April on record and the online clothing sector was badly impacted, recording its lowest ever growth of 1%. What this demonstrates is that e-commerce is fairly unique in the retail industry, as it doesn’t always reflect analysts’ expectations; online shopping is so engrained in the culture now, the market seems to keep up its double-digit growth irrespective of potentially disruptive external factors.”

Mobile continues to mature

More online growth last month came from sales via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), which hit levels last seen in 2012 with sales up 243% year-on-year. This was despite a drop in average conversion rates to 1.8% compared to 2.3% in February. The index suggested that users are adopting mobile phones to access retail sites for more purposes (such as research, at home or on the move), as opposed to purely for direct purchases.

Chris Webster, vice president and head of retail consulting and technology at Capgemini, commented: “Despite the various challenges currently facing the wider retail sector, such as the weather and its subsequent impact on High Street footfall, online is continuing to show its resilience.

“While the sector may, at times, slow or report a marginal annual increase, overall growth for both online and mobile has been relentless. As retailers continue to develop multichannel offerings and improve mobile services in line with an ever evolving technology, the High Street will struggle to match the performance of their online counterparts.”

Omid Rezvani, director of mobile solutions at systems integrator and IMRG member eCommera, advised: “Our experiences show that, if retailers deliver a clear and intuitive mobile service, then customers will use the mobile channel to complete purchases. Evaluate and improve each user journey through the service, make them as simple as possible and then complement this with a robust, yet easy, payment experience. With this, the conversion ratios will improve, as well as purchasing frequency and basket values.”

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