Slowdown in online sales growth continues in February

The relatively slow start to the year for UK online retail continued in February, with year-on-year sales up 6% on the same month one year before.

Figures from the e-Retail Sales Index, which is compiled by e-tail trade association IMRG and consultancy group Capgemini, showed that online trading was down 12% on January, which itself was reported to have shown sluggish annual growth.

Capgemini suggested that it is too early to tell whether February's results are indicative of a new pattern of steady muted growth or simply a blip, but sales are expected to improve in March – particularly in the clothing category – as the increasingly warmer weather tempts shoppers into updating their wardrobes.

Online clothing sales were up just 4% year-on-year in February, compared to a much healthier 20% annual rise in trading in February 2014. Other sectors performed more positively in February, with gifts, lingerie and health & beauty all seeing significant increases in online trading activity.

The alcohol sector also enjoyed strong growth in February, with online sales surging 42% on the same period last year: the highest annual increase recorded for this particular sector since April 2011.

Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, commented: "While the UK online retail market has seen a relatively weak start to the year, the latest results reveal a number of lower-ticket sectors performed well during February, including health & beauty, lingerie and gifts, which were no doubt boosted by Valentine's Day.

"It is interesting to see that the high street/multichannel retailers have seen a stronger start to 2015 than their online-only counterparts, with online retail sales up 8% year-to-date, while the latter group have recorded just 2% year-on-year growth.

"However, looking at the mobile commerce performance of these two groups, it is clear that the pure-play merchants are ahead, with annual growth in sales via smartphones and tablets reaching an average of 89% over the past six months, almost three times the growth rate recorded by the multichannel retailers."

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