New data shows that online retail sales grew 32.7% year on year in May, marking the highest annual result since March 2008 as shoppers were forced online by the closure of stores due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The study also found a 13.6% month-on-month growth in online from April, according to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.

The rolling averages for 12, six and three months also reflected this increase, rising 8.4%, 10.4% and 17.3% respectively.

The trajectory was largely driven by increased sales in home and garden, electricals, and beer, wine and spirits. These reflect the current trends in consumer behaviour, including home-working, increased DIY, and virtual pub quizzes and parties.

Sales were also likely impacted by the record-breaking 266 hours of sunshine in May, as well as multiple bank holidays.

Online clothing sales did not fare as well, falling 9.8% year on year. Footwear was the hardest-hit category, with a drop of 16.4% year on year.

The results also showed that multichannel retailers surpassed their pureplay counterparts, as sales rose at multichannels by 53.1% compared with 10.1% for online-only retailers. 

IMRG strategy and insight director Andy Mulcahy said: “There has been a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’ and, after two months of exceptional growth rates for online retail, we have to speculate as to what that might be in a retail sense as the shops start to open again. Will online be able to retain its share and, if so, to what extent?

“There are two aspects that will greatly influence the answer to that question – demand and culture. Much spend has been forced online, and often in an artificially inflated way; the huge spike in freezer sales will be a blip, for example.

“We might expect online demand to remain much stronger over the longer term, however, and that online growth has been achieved with clothing, a major category, in negative growth.

”Once demand returns there, will it be in stores – where 30-minute queues to get in will quickly become tiresome – or online, which is by its very nature socially distanced? It seems reasonable to assume demand and culture will have been forever altered.”