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BWS online sales hold up ‘remarkably well’

Published:  14 June, 2021

Online beer, wine and spirits (BWS) sales rose 7.5% in May, bucking the downward trend recorded across the majority of FMCG categories.  

Overall online retail sales fell by 9.1% year on year last month, against very high May 2020 growth of 61%, marking the sector’s largest drop in volume ever as the high street opened once more, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index.

“The BWS online category held up remarkably well in May,” said Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG.  

“While sales growth was only 7.5% year on year, that was building on 137% growth in May 2020, which was the third-highest rate for the entire pandemic. 

“With restaurants and bars only able to operate at reduced capacity still – and the weather being so wet in May – it seems shoppers stuck to the online channel,” he said.

Looking at overall online sales, when you take away the comparison to May 2020’s very high 61% growth, the figures paint a far more positive picture however. 

Measured against May 2019’s pre-pandemic levels, last month’s figures represent a 46% increase in sales volume. Meanwhile the average basket volume has been rising steadily throughout the year, and now stands at £130.

“While the 9.1% year-on-year drop is technically the biggest in the 21-year history of the index, it can be misleading as it is compared against a huge growth rate last year,” said Mulcahy. 

“The monthly growth between April and May is more revealing; when comparing the same period in 2019 (ie a normal year) there is a 10-percentage point difference this year, which also happened between March and April. So, there is definitely a slowing down in demand, though from a very high base.”

The May BWS figures are in stark contrast to those recorded for March, when year on year online BWS sales slumped 6.7%, making it the only category online to record negative growth. 

The IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.