Brits spent £93 billion online in 2020

Brits in lockdown spent some £93 billion online in 2020, accounting for 23.3 per cent of all retail sales and up from the £64 billion (15.9 per cent) recorded in 2019. The figures for 2020 include both business-to-business and business-to-consumer sales.

According to research carried out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a total of 19 per cent of all shopping in the world was done online last year, a figure which rose to 25.9 per cent for South Korea and 24.9 per cent in China.

Data for the top 13 e-commerce firms in the world – 11 of which are from either China or America – showed that some companies prospered during the pandemic while others floundered. Chinese etail giant, Alibaba, topped the rank, followed by US company, Amazon. Travel firm Expedia saw its ranking fall from 5th place in 2019 to 11th last year, while Booking Holdings fell from 6th to 12th and Airbnb went from 11th to 13th place.

The report follows on from a 7.3 per cent rise in British retail sales during February and March 2021. The Office for National Statistics said there had been a 5.4 per cent rise in March alone, with clothes in particular proving popular as sales in this category rose by 17.5 per cent. Other non-food sectors saw a 13.4 per cent rise, while sales at garden centres and florists rose by 7.4 per cent.

Online sales in the UK fell slightly from 36.2 – 34.7 per cent in Feb-March, but this is still well up on the 23.1 per cent recorded in the same period last year.

Consumer Markets Leader at PwC Lisa Hooker said: “Retailers will be hoping that these positive signs translate into a sustained return to the physical stores as they reopen across the UK over the course of April. The real test of whether pent-up demand can be turned into actual sales will come with next month’s figures.’

The reopening of non-essential retail in England saw retail sales leap by 87.8 per cent in the space of a week. Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard said: ‘The first week of reopening delivered an outstanding performance for UK retail destinations and stores, with an increase in footfall from the week before that was virtually double our forecast. These results provide concrete evidence of the desire of shoppers to return to bricks and mortar stores and destinations. The key issue for retail destinations will be whether this momentum can be sustained. From our evidence of the last two lockdowns, we are expecting footfall to continue to increase over the next few weeks, albeit at a lesser rate.

Head of Retail at Accenture UK & Ireland, Lynda Petherick told the BBC that retailers “must stay ‘strategic’ in striking a balance between in-store shopping and online…or risk losing out to competitors that learned strategic lessons from the pandemic.”

The reopening of indoor hospitality later this month (17 May) will hopefully provide another boost to neighbouring retail destinations.


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