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Online Retail Sales Hold Steady in March

13 Apr 2021

LONDON UK – 13 April 2021: Despite the upcoming end of lockdown and promise of in-person shopping, online retail sales continued to show strong growth in March, rising by +71.7% Year-on-Year (YoY). That’s according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers. With last March coinciding with the start of lockdown, however, this growth must be put in the context of the resulting sales spiral, which saw overall growth sink to just +3.0% YoY.

At a category level, last month’s results are also reflective of trends witnessed in March 2020. Clothing had another good month (+75.9% YoY) as people began to ready their wardrobes for social occasions being put back in the diary – but this was measured against a plummet of -18.9% this time last year. Meanwhile, two of the past year’s strongest performers saw a slight slowdown in their stellar trajectories – with electricals and health & beauty recording only +78.5% (compared to a high of +206.6%) and +46.5% growth respectively.

Garden yet again emerged as one of the category winners, with sales rising by +120.3% YoY as the easing of lockdown restrictions began to open gardens to guests for the first time this year, and consumers prepare for the sunnier weather. This performance is made even more impressive because it compares to already high growth figures of +224.6% for March 2020.

Beers & wines was the only category to record negative growth, with sales slumping to -6.7% YoY; again however, this tracks against figures of +105.7% for March 2020 as it seems the nation turned to alcohol to get over the shock of lockdown.

Lucy Gibbs, managing consultant – Retail Insight, Capgemini: March continues to demonstrate strong overall online growth at +71.7%, however as we pass the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, the trends from the last 12 months have started to reach a turning point. Beers & wines was one of the initial categories to benefit, up +105% YoY in March 2020 but down -6.7% this year.  In contrast, the clothing sector dipped to a record low in March last year (-18.9%) but this month all the clothing categories have reported the strongest growth in the last 5 years, up +75.9% overall.  Not only is the comparator for clothing low, but sales will have also been boosted by new season releases, combined with a cautiously optimistic emergence from the latest and longest UK lockdown.   

“As speculated, we are likely to continue to see a reversal of some of the recent highs and lows against an unprecedented year of category swings in 2020.  This will be good news for the sectors which were hardest hit last year, and as stores open alongside an increase in consumer confidence this will hopefully provide a boost in overall spending, with an expectation that online will remaining central to our shopping habits.”

Matthew Walsh, Director of Data and Retail, IMRG: “Online retail is poised for turbulent months ahead as lockdown restrictions ease and social plans become reality. That said, the ‘unlocking’ of physical stores had little immediate impact on the online retail market last year – in fact, we saw a one-month gap between the reopening of non-essential high street shops and restaurants/bars. It was only once bars opened and the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme arrived that online growth started to fall.

“A similar one-month gap could be expected for 2021, with the high street due to open this month. It will certainly be interesting to find out if pent up demand changes the trading balance or if we will see online retail have breathing space until May.”



The IMRG Capgemini Sales Index was adjusted in August 2020 to reflect updated historic figures from our retail panel. Previously reported results have been recalibrated to provide a more accurate view of the market index.

About the ‘IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index’

The IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which was started in April 2000, tracks ‘online sales, which we define as ‘transactions completed fully, including payment, via interactive channels’ from any location, including in-store.

*Please note from January 2020 the Index no longer includes data from the travel sector

About IMRG

For over 20 years, IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) has been the voice of e-retail in the UK. We are a membership community comprising businesses of all sizes – multichannel and pureplay, SME and multinational, and solution providers to the industry. We support our members through a range of activities – including market tracking and insight, benchmarking and best practice sharing. Our indexes provide in-depth intelligence on online sales, mobile sales, delivery trends and over 40 additional KPIs. Our goal is to ensure our members have the information and resources they need to succeed in rapidly evolving markets – both domestically and internationally.

About Capgemini

About Capgemini

Capgemini is a global leader in partnering with companies to transform and manage their business by harnessing the power of technology. The Group is guided every day by its purpose of unleashing human energy through technology for an inclusive and sustainable future. It is a responsible and diverse organization of 270,000 team members in nearly 50 countries. With its strong 50 year heritage and deep industry expertise, Capgemini is trusted by its clients to address the entire breadth of their business needs, from strategy and design to operations, fueled by the fast-evolving and innovative world of cloud, data, AI, connectivity, software, digital engineering and platforms. The Group reported in 2020 global revenues of €16 billion.

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