Faced with shop closures and spending most of their time at home, UK consumers took their spending online during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, buying everything from groceries to electronics from the safety of their homes. Following an early surge, online purchases slowed in June for the first time in months, according to UK figures from Adobe’s Digital Economy Index.
The data, which is based on an analysis of 1 trillion visits to commerce sites, including some of the UK’s biggest retailers and more than 100 million individual product SKUs, revealed that online sales fell 7.8% in June, following consecutive month-on-month growth averaging 30% from March to May.
“The summer months always see a slowdown in consumer spending, and after sharp increases in online shopping, the small dip in June is to be expected,” says Lee Edwards, General Manager of Adobe in Northern Europe and EMEA. “However, online sales remain buoyant as we enter the second half of 2020, and retailers will continue to focus on delivering great digital experiences for their customers while simultaneously getting their shops back to full capacity.”
A mixed bag for grocers and apparel
As an essential service, grocers have fared better than most during the pandemic. Consumers faced significantly restricted options and were quick to embrace online food shopping as a viable alternative, culminating in May with an 81% rise in online purchases.
That said, the June data paints a more balanced picture, with online orders dipping 1.3% in this category. With the slowdown expected as consumers begin to visit shops in a more familiar way, the small drop demonstrates that the vast majority of consumers are still sticking to online for some or all of their grocery shopping
“Providing online grocery delivery is an incredibly complex business, and the figures show just how hard it remains for supermarkets and grocery suppliers to plan and forecast effectively,” says Edwards. “At the start of the pandemic, supermarkets had to contend with never-before-seen levels of demand and now, as physical shops become more viable, they need to strike a profitable balance between their online and in-store offerings without compromising on either.”
For their part, fashion brands also saw a drop in online sales, falling 12% in June after growing by 31% in May.
Electronics charge forth
The electronics sector was a particularly bright spot in an uncertain time. Adobe’s DEI data found that after a stable April and May, online electronics purchases jumped 27% in June, nearly matching the 31% peak electronics brands saw at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The resilience of these companies is more than just an economic indicator, it is a telling sign of how we have all adapted to lockdown life,” says Edwards. “Remote working looks set to continue for many of us, and the data shows that consumers are continuing to invest in the technology they need to make the most of life at home, for both work and play”.
Adapting to a new normal
Until recently, UK retailers had been relying on a “COVID surge” in online activity to offset the lack of footfall in their shops, but the data suggests that we have now reached a new phase of consumer behaviour that requires some further adjustments.
The data shows that many consumers have been won over by online shopping, even if they were new to it in March when lockdown rules were introduced. As restrictions ease and consumers return to more familiar routines and shopping habits, retailers should think carefully about the digital experiences they deliver to help them carry forward the strong momentum in their online businesses.
“Stay-at-home measures have started to ease, giving consumers more options when it comes to how they shop. After seeing the pendulum swing heavily towards online in the past few months, retailers will need to stay attentive to understand which lockdown habits their customers stick with, and which ones they drop,” says Edwards.
See more insights from Adobe’s Digital Economy Index (DEI) report.
 March: +31%, April: +26%, May: +31%