After a disappointing first quarter, Easter failed to deliver a boost to online retail sales, with April recording sales growth of just +5.2% year-on-year (YoY), according to the latest IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index. This compares poorly to a very strong performance in April of last year (+12.5%) but continues an ongoing trend of subdued growth seen since the start of 2019. During the first quarter of this year, the Index recorded average sales growth of +7.5%, which is the lowest quarterly growth since Q1 2015 (+6%). Comparatively, the same quarter last year delivered growth of +14.5%.
Further sector analysis shows a number of categories struggling significantly in April – most notably clothing, which saw its overall growth rate slow to +6.7% YoY (from +9.9% in April 2018) and decreases in both lingerie (-8.5%) and accessories (-2.6%). This was the six-consecutive month of single-digit growth for clothing, and follows a quarter of just +3.2% growth versus +13.9% in Q1 2018.
Elsewhere in April, electricals continued its downwards momentum, with growth falling to -27%, and gifts saw a similarly steep decline of -22%. Following a 15-month run of very healthy growth, health & beauty also slumped to -0.7% growth.
In terms of channel spend, it has been an interesting year to date for mobile commerce. As the channel has matured, we had been seeing a slowdown in growth over the last four years, however sales really picked up in the past two quarters and Q1 saw average growth of +12.4% versus last quarter (for smartphones and tablets combined). In a complete reversal of fortunes, device sales for April however dropped by a staggering -20.5%, with the decrease more marked for online-only retailers (-39%) than multichannel (-8%).
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG, said: “2018 was a tough year for retail generally as the industry appears to be undergoing an accelerating period of transformation. Online sales were strong in the first half of the year, but growth rates dropped toward the end of the year culminating in subdued trading over the Black Friday and Christmas peak. 2019 has seen a continuation of those trends, with clothing sales having a particularly difficult time; growth for this category has been low single-digit for six consecutive months for the first time since we started tracking it.
“There seems to be little sign of imminent improvement in shopper confidence; retailers will now be hoping that the warmer weather forecast over the coming weeks may stimulate greater demand, especially for those selling seasonal fashion lines.”
Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement, Capgemini, said: “Easter 2018 fell between March and April, so we were hopeful the figures for April 2019 would be favourable (full Easter performance) given the slow performance in March – this did not seem to be the case given the 5.2% increase YoY. If you compare March and April 2018 to March and April 2019 then the growth is only 6.2%, which is still less than half the growth of April 2018 on April 2017. Home and Garden was one area which faired relatively well in April 2019, growing at 13% YoY and buoyed by a very hot Easter weekend; we have previously seen a correlation with significant growth for this category during this period.
Looking ahead, we are approaching a strong May-July 2018 performance to benchmark against given the royal wedding, football World Cup and good weather, leaving retailers with the feeling of having a ‘mountain to climb’ next month and beyond.”