In fact, the results conclude what has been a very solid first quarter of the year, with online sales up 15% on the same period in 2012, exceeding earlier expectations of 12%.
In terms of sector performance, online clothing sales performed particularly well in March. Despite a disappointing start to spring, with parts of the country experiencing the highest March snowfall in 30 years, the online clothing sector recorded growth of 15% year-on-year – in contrast with the performance reported by several major UK high street brands.
Growth in sales via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) was restored to levels last seen in 2012 with sales up 243% year-on-year. This was despite a drop in average conversion rates to 1.8% compared to 2.3% in February. This suggests that users are adopting mobile phones to access retail sites for more purposes (eg research, at home or on the move) as opposed to purely for direct purchases.
Andrew McClelland, chief operations & policy officer at IMRG, said: “Unseasonal weather patterns can impact some online retail sectors just as much as on the high street, so with the freezing weather in March it was a real surprise to see the clothing sector up by 15% year-on-year. In 2012, for example, we saw the wettest April on record and the online clothing sector was badly impacted, recording its lowest ever growth of 1%. What this demonstrates is that e-commerce is fairly unique in the retail industry, as it doesn’t always reflect analysts’ expectations; online shopping is so engrained in the culture now, the market seems to keep up its double-digit growth irrespective of potentially disruptive external factors.”
Chris Webster, vice president, head of retail consulting and technology at Capgemini, commented: “Despite the various challenges currently facing the wider retail sector, such as the weather and its subsequent impact on high-street footfall, online is continuing to show its resilience.
“While the sector may at times slow or report a marginal annual increase, overall growth for both online and mobile has been relentless. As retailers continue to develop multichannel offerings and improve mobile services in line with an ever evolving technology, the high-street will struggle to match the performance of their online counterparts.”
Omid Rezvani, director of mobile solutions at industry player eCommera, added: “The growth of mobile commerce continues unabated with all the statistics showing what an increasingly important channel mobile is becoming for retailers to sell their products directly to consumers. All of the metrics show positive growth with the exception of the conversion ratio which seems to have gone slightly into reverse. Why is this? Are consumers now using the mobile retail services as more of a discovery channel rather than a transactional channel and are they being put off by poorly designed mobile services which do not allow for rapid product discovery followed by a decent payment experience?
“Our experiences show that if retailers deliver a clear and intuitive mobile service then customers will use the mobile channel to complete purchases. Evaluate and improve each user journey through the service, make them as simple as possible and then complement this with a robust yet easy payment experience. With this the conversion ratios will improve as well as purchasing frequency and basket values.”