Rachel Lund, Head of Retail Insight and Analytics, British Retail Consortium:

“In what was a fairly tepid month for sales in UK, in February total visits to retailers’ website grew 3% on last year. As we saw in 2016, with Christmas and the January sales over and still some weeks until Easter, visits per week dropped compared to last month. With online (non-food) sales growing at 8% on the year, it’s clear that the amount consumers are spending per visit continues to increase.

“Browsing in House & Garden and Health & Beauty are still seeing significant growth as retailers are getting to grips with their online offer in these areas. Interestingly these categories saw some of the weakest online sales growth this month, highlighting the customer journey to purchase may play out over weeks or months. Even if consumers are not spending they are researching products.

“In contrast, browsing activity in consumer electronics fell for the second month in a row. The lack of significant new product releases in this space is likely to be behind the falling activity. With the recent release of the Nintendo Switch, we expect next month’s figures to reverse the recent trend. 

“As we progress through what is likely to be a challenging year for retailers, as inflation picks up and budgets are squeezed, optimising their online platforms will be crucial for retailers.” 

 

Christian Marsden, General Manager, Hitwise: 

“February saw a 3% rise in visits to Shopping & Classifieds year-on-year, showing a stable situation despite fears over shaky consumer confidence, as a result of rising inflation and the impact of Brexit.

“Key events, such as Valentine’s Day and London Fashion Week, helped propel online visits for select sub-industries, including: Clothing, Fitness & Footwear (+4% in February year-on-year) and Health & Beauty (+8%). In contrast, Consumer Electronics (-8%) and Books & Home Entertainment (-1%) are continuing its downturn into 2017.

“The two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day also saw an interesting shift in online audiences. Compared to last year, the largest growth of people searching valentine gifts came from males aged 35-44 (41% increase in the share of total searchers), compared to the largest drop from females aged 25-34 (23% decline). This data shows that Valentine’s Day now attracts an even share of gifters and researchers from both males and females. 

“Retailers need to therefore track how consumer behaviour shifts online, particularly around key retail events. A deeper knowledge of online audiences is critical, as the retail landscape is expected to toughen over the course of the year.”