David Prosser: The shine comes off online retail

Outlook: The young people who shop online are also those hit hardest by the recession

One of the features of the slowdown on the high street during this recession has been the extent to which online retail has remained resilient. Month after month, online spending has continued to rise rapidly.



At first sight, yesterday's figures from ASOS – the online retailer that has soared with internet sales – suggest that trend is continuing. But while ASOS's sales came close to doubling over the past year, it reports that growth has been much slower over the past three months.

Interestingly, this is exactly the sort of slowdown that IMRG and Capgemini, the organisations that produce the most long-standing index of online retail spending, have been predicting. Last week, they reported their online retail sales index was up 8.7 per cent in May, year-on-year, the slowest growth figure in the nine years for which the yardstick has been in existence.

Retailers in the eye of the economic storm would give anything to have sales growth of only 8.7 per cent. But the relative slowdown online does matter: it's a small, but growing part of the retail sector that has until now provided respite from the consumer spending recession.

One note of caution is that online sales do tend to fall back during periods of good weather. But the slowdown of the past few months has been a sustained dip that can't be down just to a couple of weeks of sun.

The more credible explanation is that it is younger people, by and large, who have embraced online retail more than any other. The biggest rises in online spending have come from those aged under 34. This demographic category also seems to have been hit hardest by recession, with unemployment rises that outstrip any other age group.

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