Revealed: Multichannel retail accelerated during 2020 holidays despite lockdowns globally

RetailME Bureau

According to a new report by GlobalData, the penetration of online sales reached just over 31% of total sales in the UK and almost 21% in the US. In France online channel penetration reached just over 17% and Germany saw almost 18%. Even Spain and Italy, where online selling is more embryonic, posted an increase in penetration to 9.1% and 8.9% of total retail sales, respectively.

“The usual narrative of online dominating the retail landscape is too simplistic and does not address some of the nuanced shifts occurring in the retail market. Over 2020, retailers moved quickly to make their operations more multichannel and get stores to do some of the heavy lifting in servicing online orders,” said Neil Saunders, Head of Retail at GlobalData.

“Consumers found options such as collect-from-store shopping and curbside collection very convenient. This is one of the reasons why orders collected from store more than doubled in the US over the holidays, and why countries such as Italy, where online has traditionally been less significant, retailers quickly educated shoppers to the benefits of store-collection.”

In Spain, multichannel accounted for 28% of online sales, up from 26% in the holiday period of 2019. In Italy, the same number was 27% in 2020, up from 24% in 2019.

In France and Germany, multichannel accounted for 21% and 31% of online sales, respectively. Both were slightly up from 2019.

“Although gains in France and Germany were very marginal, the fact that multichannel increased at all is remarkable – given that many non-essential shops were forced to close for part of the trading period,” he said.

The only country where multichannel sales fell was the UK because non-essential physical stores were closed for most of the holiday period, which reduced the number of people browsing in store before buying online.

In addition to exploring the growth of multichannel, the report also assesses how much of the accelerated online grow was a function of true underlying consumer demand and how much was fueled by pandemic factors such as lockdowns and consumer health concerns.

In all countries, the research found that the pandemic temporarily inflated online penetration. In the UK, where there was a severe lockdown, online penetration increased by almost 12 percentage points solely because of pandemic-related factors. In France, the same figure was four percentage points, and in Germany it was just over three percentage points. In Italy the pandemic inflated online penetration by just over two percentage points. Finally, Spain, which had the shortest shut-down of non-essential stores among European countries studied, had the lowest uplift of just under two percentage points. The US, where the retail economy was open over the holidays, had the second lowest uplift of two percentage points.

Although these figures are only a guide to the effect of the pandemic, they underline the importance of not completely extrapolating online penetration during an exceptional time to future periods when circumstances will normalize.

“When all UK non-essential stores were closed for most of the holidays, more consumers were forced to shop online. This is an exceptional event that is not driven by natural shopper preferences. Online penetration will come down as the European economies open back up,” he added.

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