Record retail sales decline as lockdown bites

On a total basis, UK retail sales decreased by 19.1 per cent in April, against an increase of 2.4 per cent in April 2019.

This is the worst decline recorded since the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG monitor began in January 1995, reflecting the effect of lockdown measures.

​​​​​​​UK retail sales increased 5.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis from April last year, when they had increased two per cent from the preceding year. However, in April, like-for-like sales were measured excluding temporarily closed stores - but including online sales - therefore the figure was primarily driven by the latter.

Online non-food sales increased by 57.9 per cent in April, against growth of four per cent in April 2019. This was above the 12-month average growth of 8.5 per cent. The non-food online penetration rate increased from 29.9 per cent in April 2019 to 69.9 per cent this April.

Over the three months to April, in-store sales of non-food items declined 36 per cent on a total and 17.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis. This is worse than the 12-month total average decline of 11.5 per cent.

During the last three months, food sales increased six per cent on a like-for-like basis and 4.5 per cent on a total basis. This is higher than the 12-month total average growth of 1.6 per cent. Non-food retail sales decreased by 4.4 per cent on a like-for-like and 17.5 per cent on a total basis over the three months to April. This is below the 12-month total average decline of 5.6 per cent.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson noted that food sales were disappointing, with the virus preventing large family gatherings and turning Easter into a more modest affair.

“For many non-food goods, such as clothing, footwear and large household items, the decline was particularly steep as consumers responded to lockdown conditions.

“The proportion of goods purchased online rose sharply, with products such as games consoles, bicycles, office equipment and haberdashery all high on the list,” she continued, adding: “However, even the dramatic rise in online sales could not make up for the loss of in-store purchases.”

Referring to documentation following the prime minister’s address on Sunday, Dickinson added that the Recovery Strategy was “an opportunity missed to provide a clear and detailed roadmap, outlining when and how shops will reopen after the 1 June, so that retail can help get the economy moving and the public can get all the goods they need”.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, commented that aside from ‘essential’ retailers still operating physically, consumers have had little alternative but to log-on, so online sales were up nearly 60 per cent.

“The disparities in retail continue, not only between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’, but also between those with an online channel and those without,” he said. “Eyes are firmly fixed on how the easing of restrictions will impact consumer spending going forwards, with the acceleration of online sales likely here to stay and overall demand in certain categories, like fashion, remaining subdued for some time.”

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