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'Fashion frenzy' online over Christmas

There was a “fashion frenzy” online over the Christmas trading period, while in-store sales of non-food items declined, according to the latest figures from the BRC-KPMG sales monitor.

Online sales of non-food products grew by 7.6% during the five weeks to 30 December, below a 12-month average of 8% but above a three-month average of 6.2%.

The average online penetration rate increased to 24.1% in December 2017, from 23% in December 2016.

Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG, said the cold weather seemed to usher in an online “fashion frenzy”, with health and beauty, footwear and clothing proving particularly popular. However, he pointed out that this did not take into account returns of unwanted products. 

He added that the rise in online sales reinforced the “disparity” between the high street and online, noting: “While a proportion of this divide can be attributed to Cyber Monday, shoppers are increasingly preferring to shop online, especially at Christmas.”

On the high street, non-food retail sales fell 1.9% on a like-for-like basis and 1.4% on a total basis, both below the 12-month total growth average of 0%.

In-store sales of non-food items declined by 2.2% year-on-year. These sales also dropped by 3.7% on a total basis and 4.4% on a like-for-like basis in the three months to December, marking the steepest decline seen since records began in December 2012.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said the difference between growth in sales of food and non-food “has never been so stark”.

She said: “With inflation outpacing income growth, shoppers continued to see more of their spending power absorbed by essential items, including food, leaving less left over for buying Christmas gifts.

“That made this year’s festive period all the more nail-biting for non-food retailers, many of whom offered deep discounts in the last weeks before Christmas in the hope of something to celebrate at the end of a year, which has seen, on average, zero growth in non-food sales. These promotions came as a welcome relief for stretched households, although the late lift in sales came at the expense of margins for many retailers.

“Retailers who did well in such a challenging environment got both their discounting strategy and omnichannel offerings right. Those who could offer and deliver on last minute delivery options did better, boosting online non-food sales more than 15% in the seven days before Christmas, a week when, until now, shoppers would have had to turn to stores to ensure gifts made it under the tree in time.”

Total UK retail sales inched up by 0.6% in December on a like-for-like annual basis, compared with 1% growth during the preceding year.

According to sales growth rankings by category, clothing sales climbed on both a like-for-like and total basis to rank second, after food. This compares with sixth place in December 2016. Its 12-month average saw it rank in 9th position.

Despite seeing drops in like-for-like and total sales, footwear gained fifth place in December by category, up five places from December 2016. Its 12-month average saw it rank in 8th position.

UK growth rankings by category:

brc table

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