Can real shops win back Suffolk customers who went online in lockdown?

Will the customers return when shops reopen their doors? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Will the customers return when shops reopen their doors? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

How long will it take retailers to recover from the impact of the lockdown? New figures suggest that shopping habits have changed significantly over the last two months – but will there be any major recovery and if there is, how long will it take.

A national survey from IMRG Capgemini which tracks online retail activity showed that the number of online sales surged by 23.8% in April compared with last year – but it was actual shops with websites that did better than online-only retailers.

That will give some comfort to town centre stores that they can get customers back at the end of lockdown – as will statistics that showed that although overall online sales rose, clothing sales fell by nearly 24%. That could mean people want to wait until they can see new clothes in person before buying.

However retailers in Ipswich do not expect to be rushed off their feet when non-essential stores are able to reopen, possibly next month. They expect to see fewer shoppers than normal through their doors, possibly as low as 20% of normal at first.

But they do think those who come through their doors will be determined to buy items – they don’t expect to see as many browsers or those just “window-shopping” who might end up making an impulse purchase.

And while spring fashions might stay on the shelves – or be sold at heavy discounts later in the seasons – there is expected to be renewed demand for basic clothing to replace clothes that may be wearing out during the lockdown.

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Areas that have seen major growth online have included garden supplies – which has seen a 288% growth online over the lockdown – and electric goods as people have stocked up on technology and entertainment during the lockdown.

Online garden sales may be hit after this week and the re-opening of garden centres which have seen queues build up as the green-fingered stock up with bedding plants to get in the ground before high summer.

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Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director, IMRG: “April’s data shows that demand is following a very logical pattern – with stores closed, people who would usually shop in physical locations have no choice but to switch online.

“Hence it is the multichannel retailers who are securing the very strong growth at the moment, though whether it will be enough to entirely offset the loss of sales from those stores seems unlikely.”

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