Easter and election influence online sales growth in April

UK online retail sales were up +13.9 per cent year-on-year (YoY) in April, according to the latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index. While on the surface this represents solid growth, it was only up +4.3 per cent on March when a higher rate might have been expected (due to the timing of Easter this year – falling in April, whereas it was in March in 2016).

Key findings:

  • Online retail sales up +13.9 per cent in April
  • Growth on March below expectation
  • Election likely to be influencing shopper behaviour

Beers, wines & spirits usually does well in the month that features Easter and this year sales growth was up +28.9 per cent, a six-year high. For clothing, sales growth was up +10.5 per cent – again this is solid enough, but it tracks below recent performance and both menswear and womenswear experienced negative growth; at -7 per cent and -5 per cent respectively.

A key factor in April’s below-expectation performance could be the announcement of the general election. Data around previous election years indicates a strong correlation between elections and a dip in clothing and footwear growth in the month leading up to the vote.

Bhavesh Unadkat, principle consultant in retail customer engagement design, Capgemini said, “A YoY growth of just 13.9 per cent in a month that also included Easter is yet another sign of slowdown within the retail industry. This is also demonstrated in the MoM increase of only 4.3 per cent – again, despite the falling of Easter – where April is always a strong month. The slowdown is further proved through investigating the clothing sector, which increased 10.5 per cent on the year, but showed the slowest YoY April growth rate for 6 years.

Similarly, while Beers, Wines & Spirits increased 29 per cent on the year, which is likely thanks to the Easter effect, the combined performance of March and April this year versus last (to consume Easter variance) only shows an increase of 9% on the year. All in all the next few months at least will remain a challenge for retail as consumer confidence is impacted by political and economic factors.”

Justin Opie, managing director, IMRG added, “It may seem odd to regard growth of +13.9 per cent as disappointing, but taking the other factors into consideration we can identify some indications of suppressed growth potentially linked to shopper confidence.

Looking at historical data, it seems that elections exert an influence on spending patterns and we may expect that to continue into May due to the uncertainty that comes with these events.

We then enter the period of official Brexit negotiations with the EU, when the progress of those discussions will likely be reflected in shopper behaviour. That could be a period of considerable turbulence for retailers due to the potential for currency fluctuations, shifting shopper confidence and rising inflation.”