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Multichannel Retail Adoption Accelerated At End Of 2020, Study Finds

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Multichannel retailing saw significant growth towards the end of last year, a new study by GlobalData has found, as retailers developed their online channels to capitalise on festive sales opportunities.

The study examined shopping trends in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy during November and December 2020, and found that multichannel sales grew in five of these six markets.

Multichannel sales were up 37% in the US over the period, a 5% increase on the previous year, while France was up 21%, Germany 31%, Spain 28% and Italy 27%; all increases on the previous year.

The only country to se multichannel sales fall was the UK, which was due to non-essential physical stores remaining closed for most of the holiday period, which in turn reduced the number of people browsing in store before buying online.

“Over 2020 retailers moved quickly to make their operations more multichannel and to get stores to do some of the heavy lifting in servicing online orders," commented Neil Saunders, GlobalData’s lead retail analyst.


"Consumers found options like collect from store and kerbside collection very convenient. This is one of the reasons why orders collected from store more than doubled in the US over the holidays. It’s also why in countries like Italy, where online has traditionally been less significant, retailers quickly educated shoppers to the benefits of store-collection.”

Online Channel Growth

In terms of online specifically, channel growth 'accelerated significantly' during the 2020 festive period, the study found, reaching just under a third of sales (31%) in the UK and around 21% in the US.

In France, online channel penetration reached just over 17%, while in Germany it was almost 18%. Even countries where online is more embryonic, like Spain and Italy, posted an increase in online penetration to 9.1% and 8.9% of total retail sales, respectively, the study found.

However, Saunders added that these are exceptional times, and the seismic growth that online has seen over the past year may start to slow once mainstream retail reopens.


“When all UK non-essential stores were closed for most of the holidays, more consumers were forced to shop online," he said.

"This is an exceptional event that is not driven by natural shopper preferences. Online penetration will come down as the European economies open back up.”

Key Takeaways

United States

Over the holidays, US online sales grew by 35% compared to 2019. However, store sales remained in growth and expanded by 2%. Unlike European counterparts, the US retail economy was not locked down during the holidays, which is one of the reasons US online sales grew at the slowest pace of all countries in the study. The proportion of online sales supported by a physical store was almost 37% in the US, up from 32% in 2019.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom saw the most rapid growth in online sales, largely thanks to non-essential retailers being closed for 93% of the holiday period. Compared to 2019, online sales grew by almost 78%. In the UK, the online channel accounted for 31% of all retail sales over the holidays. However, a lot of this was driven by the lockdown, which meant consumers could not buy from physical non-essential stores.



Over the holidays, French online sales grew by 36% compared to 2019. Despite this growth, online still only accounted for 17% of all retail sales over the holiday period. Without pandemic restrictions, around 13% of retail sales would have been made online.


Online sales grew by 43% in Germany, fuelled by the closure of non-essential stores in late December which disrupted Christmas shopping. This pushed up online penetration to 18%. Without the pandemic, online would have accounted for just over 14% of total sales.


Spanish online sales grew by 36% over the holiday period. Online grew sharply, especially in November as more consumers stayed home. However, online growth moderated slightly in December. The proportion of online orders connected to stores increased over the holiday period.


Italian online sales grew by almost 42% over the holiday period. Given the embryonic nature of the Italian online channel, this growth rate is flattered as it comes from a low base. The proportion of online sales supported by physical stores increased from 24% in the holiday period 2019 to 27% in the holiday period 2020. There was particularly sharp growth in customers collecting online orders from stores.

© 2021 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.

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