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Chancellor George Osborne’s statement last month that the UK economy would likely grow as little as 0.6% in 2013 did nothing to cheer consumers.
March 2013 was also a disappointing month for retail sales in the UK, as rain and snow persuaded many shoppers to avoid all but the most necessary trips to stores. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), food sales were up almost 1%, compared with March 2012, but overall retail sales slipped by 0.7% during the month. Clothes and homewares retailers were hit especially hard.
By contrast, digital sales volumes reached new highs in early 2013—no doubt encouraged by the cold weather that kept shoppers from physical stores.
Online sales in March posted a gain of 16% year on year, according to the e-Retail Sales Index prepared by the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) and Capgemini. Moreover, the first three months of 2013 saw online sales up 15% since Q1 2012.
When it came to ecommerce, the seemingly endless weeks of bad weather didn’t seem to dent sales of clothing. Digital sales of clothes and accessories were up 15% in March 2013, compared with March 2012, IMRG and Capgemini reported.
This very strong start to the year suggests that the annual retail ecommerce forecast issued by IMRG and Capgemini in January 2013 may have underestimated momentum in the market. Those projections put 2013 online sales, excluding travel, at £87 billion ($138 billion), 12% higher than the 2012 total.
eMarketer’s own estimates of UK B2C ecommerce in 2013, which includes travel, put sales marginally higher, at $141.5 billion. More than 41 million residents ages 14 and older will shop online this year, according to eMarketer, and 36.5 million will make purchases via digital platforms—almost 5% more than in 2012. At the same time, the average annual spend per online buyer continues to rise. eMarketer expects that average to approach $3,880 in 2013, and $4,200 in 2014.
Transactions on mobile devices are a big part of the current ecommerce growth story, of course. According to IMRG’s Mobile Index, which monitors shopping via smartphones and tablets, the value of UK mobile sales rose 243% in the year to March 2013.
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