April was a confusing month for anyone tracking online sales with the latest IMRG Capgemini showing a difficult few weeks for the clothing sector, although health & beauty grew while home & garden leapfrogged ahead.
Overall online sales rose 13.5% year-on-year, or 4.3% month-on-month, although with travel excluded, those figures were a better 14.2% and 4.6% respectively. The average basket rate (again with travel excluded) was £98 and the average conversion rate was 4.5%, the lowest of the year so far, but within the expected range.
Given that fashion is one of the biggest categories online, what happens there has a big effect on overall sales but apparel specifically grew only 10.5% last month, lagging e-tail sales as a whole. And key categories were even worse – menswear was saw a fall of 7.1% while womenswear dropped 5%. Both these falls meant the two categories fell behind previous months’ performances.
In fact, clothing showed the slowest year-on-year April growth rate for six years, which is an undeniably worrying trend.
Health & beauty came in-between the extremes of the strongest and weakest sectors with a fairly muted rise of 4.3%, while home & garden went wild with a jump of 32.6%, the best figure since November 2013.
While growth may have been patchy across categories, it was clear that consumers continued their migration to m-commerce as sales via tablets and smartphones rose 29% year-on-year and 6.8% compared to March.
Given that April might have been expected to deliver higher growth as Easter should have been a sales driver, the researchers were keen to work out just what went wrong last month. They pointed out that the shock announcement of the upcoming general election could have dented consumer sentiment and also that shoes and clothing have previously suffered drops in the month leading up to a potential change of government.
Of course, other factors could have been at play too from inflation, to Brexit-linked consumer caution, and the much-talked-about trend towards experiences and away from buying more product.
All of which suggests May data might not be any better. The general election is drawing closer and so consumers are still likely to keep their wallets clasped shut as whichever government gets it, is likely to mean challenging times on the economic front. And with Brexit negotiations starting in earnest shortly after the election result is known, British shoppers are unlikely to be enjoying the feelgood factor any time soon.