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UK Online Retail Sales Report summary

February 2021

Period covered: 1st January 2021 – 31st January 2021

Note: Reporting periods are either one month or two months behind the current month as standard.

nline retail sales rose by 75.1% year-on-year (value and non-seasonally adjusted) in January, against an 8.6% rise in the same month a year ago – the second highest growth rate on record.

The acceleration on the previous month resulted in online sales growth outperforming the three-month and 12-month averages of 67.0% and 50.7% respectively.

Food (+144.5%) was the standout performer during the month as consumers cooked more meals from home due to coronavirus restrictions in place. This equates to an average of £416 million per week being spent versus £170 million in the previous year.

This stellar rise follows on from a record year in 2020 where online food sales growth rose by a staggering c.80% on 2019’s level, with growth having averaged just 11% in the previous nine years.

The crucial question for retailers across all sectors is, has the impact of covid-19 permanently shifted consumers shopping behaviours? Interestingly two-fifths of consumers indicated they are likely to spend a higher proportion on retail products online, rather than in physical shops, even after the virus subsides.

In 2020, online sales accounted for 28% of all retail sales rising from 19% a year earlier. Interestingly, that is five years’ growth in 12 months, based on historical trends. Our latest forecast for online sales is for the proportion of total sales to fall to 26.1% this year, based on the assumption that once shops reopen in April there will be no further national lockdowns.

Online sales growth reaches near-record high

Source: ONS, Retail Economics analysis

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  • Online market size estimates (£m)
  • Online spending forecasts (£m)
  • Online spending forecasts (£m)
  • Online vs. Store analysis
  • Online sales growth by category (£m)
  • External data summaries: ONS, BRC, KPMG, BDO, IMRG-Capgemini
  • Online penetration rates by category and more...