Online clothing sales tumble during first month of coronavirus-imposed lockdown

Online clothing sales were down -23.1 per cent Year-on-Year (YoY) last month as the nation got to grips with the coronavirus outbreak. According to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the performance of over 200 retailers, menswear purchases also dropped by -42.9 per cent while footwear was down -32.8 per cent. 

Elsewhere, online garden sales soared to +94.4 per cent YoY while beauty spiked to +36.0 per cent. Electricals was also a standout category  – surging by +40.2 per cent.  During the second week of March, when the government raised the outbreak risk from moderate to high, electrical retailers saw sales jump by +47.7 per cent YoY. 

“The changing demand and customer needs has also polarised impacts on different product categories where the appetite for fashion dropped off significantly compared to garden, home and electrical.” 

With the category results doing their best to balance each other out, the overall growth for March limped in at -5.1 per cent YoY – well below the 12-, 6- and three-month rolling averages (+4.5 per cent, +6.7 per cent and -2.1 per cent respectively) but still above last month’s performance by +2.6 per cent (MoM).

Perhaps marking the start of stockpiling, March started off with poor online sales for the first fortnight but seemed to recover in weeks three and four. 

Meanwhile as they are forced to shift more of their operations into the digital sphere, multi-channel retailers outperformed their pure-play e-commerce counterparts for the first time since April 2019, recording growth of -4.0 per cent versus -5.5 per cent. 

“People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down.” 

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight at Capgemini, comments: “Online sales performance this month is a mixed story as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges. ‘Non-essential’ stores closed their doors on the high street which led to the majority of multi-channel retailers gaining a boost in online performance in the latter half of the month as consumers channelled their demand into digital.  However, the changing demand and customer needs has also polarised impacts on different product categories where the appetite for fashion dropped off significantly compared to garden, home and electrical, which are seeing unusually high demand as we spend more time at home.

Next month we are likely to see a continued rise in online demand however it has never been more important to listen to consumer needs to respond to new spending patterns, communicate in a way that resonates with the concerns and needs of customers and using datapoints to inform next steps as we navigate through the changes”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, adds: “There is a bit of a myth going around at the moment that online sales are booming. It’s more accurate to say some online retailers are experiencing huge demand, outstripping even that seen over Black Friday, because so many people are in the exact same situation – ie stuck at home. That has created very lopsided demand among product categories.

“People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down. How and when a stronger balance in demand might be established is a pressing question for retailers currently on the wrong side of that divide.”

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