Retailers witness strongest January online order growth in five years

Online retail delivery order volumes were up 20.6% year-on-year in January, the strongest January growth for order volumes since 2013, according to the latest data from the IMRG MetaPack UK Delivery Index.

During the same period, footfall fell to its lowest January rate in five years – possibly influenced by above-average rainfall keeping shoppers away from the high street – which looks to have benefited online.

Despite this high demand for online orders, the percentage of parcels arriving on-time recovered to 90% in January, following the record low of 85% recorded in December.

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However, this was still down on January last year when it was at 93%. The most likely reason for the longer-term fall in performance is the general increase in the proportion of orders using faster, typically next-day, delivery services, according to the Index.

The relative weakness of sterling also continued to exert an influence over the destination of online retail orders.

While it has recovered against the US dollar in recent months, sterling remains weak against the euro (steadily hovering within €1.12 – €1.15 range).

As a consequence, the volume of orders going to destinations within the EU hit 70% – the highest percentage since the index launched in 2011.

Andrew Starkey, head of e-Logistics at IMRG, said: “Online sales revenue growth was also strong in January, up 13.9%, so it was a strong start to the year for online retail overall in spite of the ongoing economic uncertainty. It was a very wet month for most of the UK, which can deter people from visiting their local high street, but it’s possible that post-peak returns may have had some influence on volume too.

“Given the record volume of Christmas orders – and the extended returns period that many retailers offer – it is likely that the volume of returns would also be high. Many of these would have found their way back into online channels for resale as part of the New Year sales.”

Maria Dahlqvist Canton, global marketing director at MetaPack, commented: “It’s good news for eCommerce retailers and demonstrates that the market remains buoyant following the year-on-year rise in retail delivery order volumes during December. There is a definite correlation between the slow-down in footfall on the high street and the rise in online orders, and it will be interesting to see if the trend continues in the February figures.”

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