James Hardiman, Junior Analyst, Retail Insight and Analytics, British Retail Consortium:

“As is customary for the most crucial period of the retail calendar, December saw higher absolute levels of browsing than any other month of 2018. However, in terms of growth the picture becomes less rosy, as this browsing activity was 0.6% lower than the same month from 2017.

“This does not mean it was all doom and gloom for retailers this Christmas, as there were some categories that managed to buck this trend and record credible growth figures. Rather unsurprisingly, Food & Drink and House & Garden were the highlights of the month, by posting growth figures of 4.8% and 3.8% respectively, as these categories were focussed on by those looking to both entertain and spruce up home decorations ahead of the festivities at the end of the month.

“Also, a contributing factor to the dip in terms of time spent on retail visits may be testament to the efforts of retailers in streamlining the customer journey through their websites, resulting in increases in both conversion rates and continued sales growth.”

 

Giles Longhurst, SVP and General Manager, Hitwise

“December’s retail month included the final days of Cyber Week, namely Cyber Monday (26th of November). This peak sales day, along with the Christmas sales period, fell short of driving an overall uplift in online retail activity. Compared to last year, online retail visits dipped by 0.6%.

“But this fall wasn’t across the board; a trend we have noted throughout the year. Food & Drink (+4.8% YoY), House & Garden (+3.8%) and Clothing, Fitness and Footwear (+0.7%) continued to outperform the previous year. The largest decline was seen among Consumer Electronics specialists (-5.7%), with consumers increasingly searching for and purchasing the latest gaming consoles, smart tech and mobile devices on multi-category retailers. Health & Beauty also saw a drop of 1.7% in December, compared to its 2.3% rise in November, indicating the category’s shift toward Black Friday sales from Christmas sales.

“Like November’s results, the “quality” of online retail traffic has improved. The proportion of visits that led to a purchase has risen. Conversion rates grew 11.5% YoY in the two weeks before Christmas (3.7% average rate) and 8.4% YoY in the week of Christmas (2.8% average rate). Top retailers have converted more customers online, but the question remains on their profitability, as many advanced their Christmas promotions to early December.

“But discounting wasn’t the only method to attract and convert customers online. The end of 2018 pointed to a number of positives, particularly how consumers became increasingly conscious of sustainability. The number of people searching for veganism, clean energy and ethical fashion all grew by over 10% year-on-year. People searching for “single use plastic” and “palm oil” were up over 60% over the last quarter YoY.

“From pledges to tackle microfibres to the expansion of vegan food ranges, a number of retailers and brands have successfully capitalised on these evolving trends. These conversations aren’t likely to disappear in 2019. The most successful retailers will be the ones who truly understand what their consumers want and expect, and are able to adapt accordingly.”