James Hardiman, Junior Analyst, Retail Insight and Analytics, British Retail Consortium:
“A second consecutive month of growth in visits to retail websites is reassuring for retailers, given the struggle to drive traffic in the closing stages of 2018. However, growth both for visits and in online sales according to our Retail Sales Monitor are currently below the longer-term average.
“Food & Drink retailers made the most of the traffic growth, although the category still has some way to go to catch up with the more established categories in terms of their traffic share. However, as the category has remained towards the top of the growth charts for some time, it’s clear that the modern consumer is ever more comfortable with the convenience and capabilities of ordering consumables online.
“Valentine’s Day was the key feature of the month in retail, with preparations for which moving online more than ever. Retailers in both the gifting and culinary categories benefitted from this in February, but there is still work to be done in order to convert this increased traffic into sales.”
Giles Longhurst, SVP and General Manager, Hitwise
“2019 has started at a much slower pace than this time last year, with January-February traffic increasing by +1.7% YoY compared to +6.8% YoY in 2018.
“The largest change has come from Clothing, Fitness & Footwear. The category has slowed from +3.9% YoY in January to +2.6% YoY in February; a big disparity from +10.7% in February last year.
“Weather has had a big impact. The Beast from the East led to spikes in searches for winter coats and boots in 2018. This year’s unseasonably warm February brought forward searches for summer dresses, tops and trainers. But this change seemed to fall short of boosting the overall category within the same month.
“Valentine’s Day has boosted Food & Drink and Books, Stationary & Home Entertainment categories. The key retail event is increasingly online, with visits to Flowers & Gifts sites rising by 14.3% YoY over the week. Tracking the key changes, searches around “Valentine’s meal deal” rose 99% YoY, “flowers delivery” grew 22% YoY and even “funny Valentine’s” increased by 16% YoY.
“So, online growth is falling short from the double-digits of previous years. One recommendation is to stay close to the consumer through search. This can help determine how consumers are responding to weather changes, or how retail events like Valentine’s Day are shifting.”