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BWS online sales flatline in the run up to Christmas

Published:  13 December, 2021

The BWS category suffered one of its poorest performances on record in November, plummeting -21.4% versus the same month in 2020, as consumers rushed out of their houses to socialise and shop ahead of the fear of potential new December 2021 lockdowns. 

According to figures from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, online retail had an abysmal month in November, with all categories bar one – clothing – seeing double digit decline.

Alcohol was very much affected by this flatlining growth. During the month of November, the category actually dropped over and above the YOY average (-19.8%), as online retail sales saw its lowest recorded growth in 21 years of the Index.

“The drop in online sales this year is not unexpected,” Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant and retail lead for analytics & AI, Capgemini said. “However, the month-on-month figures suggest that spending overall has been even more subdued. Multichannel retailers were hit the hardest, down -23.4%, but online only retailers also suffered, down -13.4% due to the drop in overall traffic online.”

Analysts also acknowledged another concerning trend. Digging deeper, the results show that consumers appear to be both buying less often and spending less when they do, with average basket value falling to £123 from a peak of £149 earlier in the year across retail categories. While in-person shopping has taken a large share of the spend, November sales including Black Friday did not deliver on their pre-Christmas potential.

Overall, sales last month compare to a strong November 2020 (+36.2%), analysts said. However, month-on-month figures are equally negative – showing a rise of only 40.4% versus the +50% that would typically be expected for the October to November timeframe.

“In retail we are often prone to focusing on the negatives, but there is no escaping that November’s performance was very poor,” Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, added.

“The most concerning thing is that traffic was the problem. Shoppers were just not visiting retailers’ sites in their usual volumes. To an extent, that could be explained by people taking to big high street locations again, but the next few weeks will be very interesting in that respect. There does seem to be an attitude of ‘getting it in before we get locked down’ at the moment, but from next week people will not want to go anywhere to avoid having to isolate over Christmas. We will, from a retail perspective, be in a lockdown in all but name which will really skew trading figures.”