Why do UK retailers continue to report Internet sales separately?

Apologies to regular readers of this blog. This is a repeat of a short rant I had when last year’s UK Christmas retail report came out. Now the half year retail results have been released, and we’re stuck with the same problem.

Marks & Spencer released their retail results for the last quarter yesterday. Management Today dutifully picked up the story. Their clothing sales are down for the eighth quarter in a row, with a 1.6% drop in the last quarter alone. This sounds horrifying. Until you read that their “Internet sales” are up by 30% in the same period. The MT reporter makes no effort to make sense of these numbers for us, by (for example) telling us how much of the 1.6% drop in clothing sales has been compensated for by a rise in online purchases. This must be the case as overall sales for M&S increased by 3.3% in the quarter. In a flat-line economy, this is great news.

My rant is simple: why are we reporting “internet sales” as if they were something different from “actual sales”? Why do we worry about a 1.6% decrease in in-store sales when we’ve had a 30% increase in online sales? And why report these numbers separately? And why treat the one number (in store sales) as if it was more important than the other?

This is NOT a small issue. The Management Today article‘s tone was one that indicated M&S are in trouble. If they’re getting 30% improvements in a quarter, and 3.3% growth overall (per quarter!) then they’re in remarkably good shape. No crisis. And no-one’s going to lose their job. But that’s not what you’d think from reading the MT article.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: UK retailers need to join the 21st century. Or maybe it’s just the journalists who write about UK retail. I don’t know. But someone needs to tell us what’s REALLY going on!

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