Friday 12 February 2021 9:07 am

Exclusive: Online retail sales record five years growth in 12 months due to pandemic

Online retail sales recorded five years of growth in just 12 months as the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the shift to digital shopping, the latest research showed. 

E-commerce sales accounted for 19 per cent of retail spending in 2019 compared to 28 per cent 2020 after restrictions and lockdowns forced consumer spending online and away from physical stores.

Many consumers have permanently changed their shopping habits during the pandemic, with two in five saying the Covid crisis had transformed the way they will shop in the future, according to a new survey by Natwest and Retail Economics.

During 2020, almost half of consumers made a new online purchase that the previously had only made in-store. 

The research also suggested there could be a strong bounce back in consumer spending as cancelled holidays, fewer nights out and less commuting has boosted discretionary spending power.

One in ten of respondents to the survey said they are expecting to spend more this year than last.  

The strength of the bounce back is dependent on perceptions about the duration and disruption caused by the pandemic. 


The study showed that 38 per cent of consumers think lives will return to normal by June 2021, rising to 55 per cent for normality by September 2021 and 65 per cent for December 2021. 

But more than a third believe it will take more than a year for normality to return, with these consumers considerably more likely to cut back spending this year compared with more optimistic consumers.

Richard Lim, chief executive at Retail Economics, said: “As the pandemic continues to unfold, many retail and hospitality businesses will remain in survival mode. 

“They are cutting costs to preserve working capital and attempting to strengthen balance sheets to weather the storm as effectively as possible.

“However, as consumer expectations shift, retail and hospitality business must pivot towards a digital-first proposition that aligns to a new normal.

“Nimble businesses who are able to react quickly can grasp new opportunities in emerging markets, retain loyal customers and thrive as the industry is reformed.”