Internet Sales set Records Galore in coldest March since 1962

The Office for National Statistics (ONS)  published the monthly retail sales figures for March today (pdf) As usual we’ve cut the pdf down to exclude the 90 pages of tables. The full version is available on the ONS site.

The overall figures were received with slight disappointment but with a small crumb of comfort from the 0.4% growth in quarter 1 being taken as a positive sign possibly heralding a pointer to GDP growth following suit! The cold weather also did not escape blame! March 2013 was the coldest since 1962 whereas March 2012 was one of the hottest ever! Online sales were reckoned to have benefited this year which is logical!

Our Internet sales headlines:

  • Records galore on almost every front!
  • This is the first non seasonal (ie December) month that retail sales have hit £3 billion
  • Internet sales at 10.2% of all retail in the first quarter is the first double digit quarterly level ever recorded.
  • All internet sales excluding food increased to their highest level ever at 17.3% and show signs of accelerating!
  • The decline in the rates of growth of  the major online only retailers noted in previous months looks to be reversing dramatically with, at 29.6%, the highest growth rate since March last year. After a 4 month lull we might just be returning to the average of over 20% recorded since the statistics were first compiled. These figures include the online sales of all the majors ie  Apple, Google, eBay, Amazon (including LoveFilm), Asos, Netflix and Shop Direct (Isme Very, Littlewoods etc)
  • Online food sales at 3.4% of all food sales continue at close to record levels.

March and Quarter 1 data:

  • Year to date internet sales 10.2% (10.1% revised*) of all retail sales
  • Monthly year on year increase +20.5%.(+11.9% revised*)
  • Quarter 1 year on year increase +15.4%
  • Moving Annual total increases (1) on February 2012 annualised + 20.9% (2) on March 2012 +15%
  • The UK’s *largest online retailer is included in the group Non-store retailing and this sector shows growth of 29.6% on 2012 and contributing 12.7% to the overall growth of 20.5% This is an area which SHOULD just grow & grow) unless further analysis is undertaken of this channel!

As always the “history” has been revised* by the ONS which this month went back as far as January 2012 with some quite large changes Internet sales last month going up to 9.9% of all sales as against the previously reported 9.7%.

The ONS words are:

Internet Sales – Key Points

  • The average weekly spend online (internet sales values non-seasonally adjusted) in March 2013 was £601.4 million. This was an increase of 20.5% compared with March 2012.
  • The amount spent online accounted for 10.4% of all retail spending excluding automotive fuel.
  • As expected, more was spent online in the non-store retailing sector than any other sector. Spending online now accounts for 68.4% of total spending in this sector. In the food sector 3.4% of spending was online. This sector has the lowest proportion of online spend in relation to all spending.

Internet sales in detail

Internet sales measure how much was spent online through retailers across all store types in Great Britain. Figures are non-seasonally adjusted and the reference year is 2010=100. Table 2 shows the year-on-year growth rates for total internet sales, by sector and the contribution that each sector makes to total internet sales. to all spending.

Table 2: Summary of Internet Sales Performance for March 2013

We have added our annotations to the ONS table) – The bold categories/ figures in the table are the primary constituents of the total (ie (a) + (b) + (c) = All retailing). Dept. stores, Textile etc, Household etc and Other stores are simply an analysis of (b) All non-food.

We have also added the sector information provided for weekly Internet Sales.

Sector summary

The non-store retailing sector comprises of stalls and markets, mail order and those retailers that sell mainly online.

* Whilst the ONS will not confirm the names of specific retailers within categories they did say that retailers selling wholly online with no physical outlets would be included in the Non store retailing category along with eg online  mail order retailers.

As previously mentioned the figures are no longer experimental.

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The moving annual total, which we report, moved up again (it has increased EVERY MONTH since October 2007 being the first full year of reporting by the ONS) to an all time high of £29.9bn an increase in the month (adjusted re restatements and revisions) of 1.74% annualised 20.9%. This possibly reverses the downward trend of four of the previous six months when single digit growth has been recorded. The long term compound average growth rate (from 2007) is a little under 25%.

Click to enlarge

The published weekly figure at £601.4 million beat our estimate (£570) by a long way and accordingly the moving annual total at £29.9 billion was ahead of our forecast (£29.75) billion. With Easter past and warmer weather a little consolidation may be in order in April so wekkly sales of say just over £600 million and a moving annual total of £30 billion may be in order.

We have again included our experimental graph (e & o e!) showing the relative internet and non-internet, moving annual total, sales from late 2007 by month. As before it highlights that high street sales have been and continue to go nowhere! As, we have mentioned before, the Boston Consulting Group forecast  in their report (The $4.2 Trillion opportunity)  that this trend is likely to continue with the high streets market share contracting at around 2.75% a year from 2010 through 2016.

Further details and explanations are either in the ONS release on the statistics or on their website. As previously mentioned a retail convention of a 4, 4, 5 week quarter is used by the ONS (December is a 5 week month). To cater for the inconvenience of years not having 364 days every 6 years or so an extra week is included in the statistics. The ONS adds this in January.

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