Jan 13, 2022
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UK online fashion sales "good" in 2021 despite sector's worst ever growth rate

Jan 13, 2022

Year-on-year comparisons across the pandemic landscape can make interesting reading. That’s why UK online retail in 2021 recorded its worst-ever year for growth, but still managed a “rather good” performance, particularly for fashion retailers, according to the latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index.

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Online revenue in 2021 finished up just 2.7% year-on-year against 2020, the lowest rate of growth in 22 years of tracking by the index, which covers online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

To put the latest performance into perspective, the latest figures follow the huge growth in 2020. That was when lockdowns pushed online retail revenue up 35% - a seven-fold increase on the rate from 2019. The very high comparison meant most of the growth in 2021 was actually negative, the index noted. 

This can be seen in the three- and six-month averages, which were -13% and -11% respectively. The first quarter of 2021 was up 60%, while the other three quarters were down 9% collectively.

But while this makes the performance of the online retail market sound poor, indexing 2021 against 2019 gives a very different picture. 

“When analysed through this lens, the overall market was up 39% and the impact of the pandemic can be seen most clearly in some of the categories IMRG and Capgemini track,” the report highlighted. 

Clothing - which was only up 1% in 2020, was up 20% against 2019, “so retailers in that category have done quite well, just not quite to the same extent that some other categories performed.”

From a monthly perspective, December continued the negative trajectory for online sales in 2021 at -6.5%. 

However, this performance was better than November, which saw online sales face a sharper decline than expected with just under -20%. December’s rate was the smallest decline since growth went into negative territory in May 2021, possibly due to sales being buoyed by concerns over an impending lockdown in December and high numbers having to isolate at home.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG,said: “2020 was the most disruptive year that most people in business today have ever experienced. 2021 started out much the same, but as the year unfolded some sense of normality returned, although all these sudden shifts, jolts and lockdowns made understanding what was actually going on very difficult; the 2019 comparisons are testament to that.

He added: “Online has been a major beneficiary of the pandemic, no question about that, and many retailers have seen their online revenues hit heights they never could have imagined two years ago. But 2022 looks set to be a year defined by inflation, the cost of living crisis and a general increase in the costs of doing business. The competition is more intense now, so gaining and keeping hold of customers against that challenging backdrop is going to require a lot of focus.”

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