UK e-tail picked up in December, but sector missed 2019 growth forecast
Online sales in the UK grew by just 6.7% in 2019, delivering the lowest annual performance seen on record, but a Q4 surge could signal a bounce back for 2020, new data has revealed.
IMRG, the voice of e-retail in the UK, had expected the UK online sector to grow at a rate of 9% in 2019.
Despite missing the forecast by a few percentage points, the results were not as bad as anticipated following a weak first-half performance. Online sales picked up in November, up 16.4% year-on-year (boosted by Black Friday), and December delivered a further 9.4% year-on-year increase.
This meant that the final half of the year recorded a growth rate of 7.6%, compared with growth of 5.4% in the first half of the year.
The data comes from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers across various sectors.
In December, the health and beauty category reported a huge 45.1% increase in online sales, while clothing was up 9.5%. Electrical retailers experienced a small glimmer of hope, with online sales up 11.9%, rebounding from their steady plummet throughout 2019.
Meanwhile, clothing’s performance in December masked a fall in Average Basket Value (ABV) of 17.6%. Overall, ABV for 2019 was down by 22.5% compared with 2018.
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “If online retail in 2018 was characterised by strong growth in the first half and weak in the second, 2019 is the year when Black Friday quite possibly papered over retail’s cracks.
“Demand was low earlier in the year, particularly over summer, and growth for the year was running at just 4.9% up to October. A solid December, albeit against weak Year-on-Year growth in 2018, off the back of an explosive November have made the full-year result look much better at +6.7%; lower than our forecast of +9%, but nowhere near as bad as it was looking a few months’ back.”
2019 winners and losers
According to the index, online-only retailers performed significantly better than multichannel retailers and their more traditional rivals, with online names reporting 10% growth in sales compared to 5.9% for multichannel players.
Budget retailers also enjoyed a good year, outperforming both mid-tier and premium in the final quarter. This sent the Average Basket Value down by 25% over November and December.
“So where does that leave retail heading into 2020? The final quarter has been a lot more positive for online sales growth than it has looked for a long time, plus we’ve had the election and Brexit should actually, finally, become something,” said Andy Mulcahy.
“There are also major sporting events galore in 2020 which could stimulate retail spending. Have we turned a corner then, or is it the case that the fundamental problems affecting retail are still yet to be solved in any meaningful way? Time will tell.”
IMRG is forecasting UK online sales to grow at a rate of 7.8% this year.
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