Covid-19: Online clothing sales tumble during lockdown

Online fashion retailers have reported a 23.1% year-on-year decline in sales for the month of March – covering the period when the UK was forced into lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Fashion sectors hit the hardest included menswear (down 42.9%) and footwear (down 32.8%).

A number of fashion retailers initially closed down their online operations, as well as their stores, as they grappled with the safety of staff in fulfilment centres. In recent days, Schuh, Next, Quiz and others have re-opened their online operations with measures put in place to ensure social distancing within warehouses.

According to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, overall eCommerce growth was down 5.1% year-on-year, but increased 2.6% in March compared to February.

The Index suggested the recent warm weather encouraged the sales of online gardening products (up 94.4%), but left clothing out in the cold. Quarantined consumers also increased spend on electricals, which surged 40.2% as the population rushed to purchase home office equipment and entertainment products. Meanwhile, the ‘lipstick effect’ – the theory shoppers will still treat themselves to little luxuries when faced with difficult economic conditions – encouraged the sales of beauty products, which increased 36%.

“There is a bit of a myth going round at the moment that online sales are booming. It’s more accurate to say some online retailers are experiencing huge demand, outstripping even that seen over Black Friday, because so many people are in the exact same situation – ie stuck at home. That has created very lopsided demand among product categories,” explained Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG.

“People simply don’t have much need for new clothes or shoes at the moment, which is why at the overall level sales growth is down. How and when a stronger balance in demand might be established is a pressing question for retailers currently on the wrong side of that divide.”

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini, added: “Online sales performance this month is a mixed story, as retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges. ‘Non-essential’ stores closed their doors on the high street which led to the majority of multichannel retailers gaining a boost in online performance in the latter half of the month as consumers channelled their demand into digital.

"Next month we are likely to see a continued rise in online demand however it has never been more important to listen to consumer needs to respond to new spending patterns, communicate in a way that resonates with the concerns and needs of customers and using datapoints to inform next steps as we navigate through the changes.”