Retail sales partly rebound in May: ONS

Retail sales volumes partly rebounded in May, with an increase of 12 per cent when compared with the record falls experienced in the previous month, but sales were still down by 13.1 per cent on February before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures showed non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to monthly growth in May, aided by a 42 per cent in household goods stores, with the opening of hardware and DIY stores reflected in this sector.

The proportion spent online soared to the highest proportion on record, at 33.4 per cent last month, which compares with the 30.8 per cent reported in April 2020.

Food stores showed a slight decline in volume sales at negative 0.3 per cent in May, but levels remain high from the spike in sales in March, partly caused by panic buying during the early stages of the Coronavirus crisis.

Non-food stores saw an uplift of 23.7 per cent, following the record fall of 41.7 per cent in April. While some garden centres and hardware stores were able to start trading again from mid-May, many others, such as clothing stores, moved to online.

Department stores were the least affected by the store closures in March and April since some of the stores in this sector sell a significant amount of essential goods, including an element of food. This meant that department stores remained at higher levels and saw an increase of 13.8 per cent in May.

Silvia Rindone, partner in consumer product and retail at EY, commented: “Peak lockdown saw sales fall as consumers prioritised essentials and cut back everywhere else – images of long queues outside re-opening shops this week clearly show pent-up demand, especially among younger consumers.”

A recent survey from the professional services firm showed that future shopping behaviour won’t be uniform, and young people are more comfortable going shopping than their older counterparts – only 38 per cent of Generation Z consumers are visiting physical stores less than before the outbreak of COVID-19, compared with 73 per cent of baby boomers.

“This is a time for retailers to really reflect on their digital capabilities to help improve the customer experience – in-store and online,” said Rindone. “One in five say they’re expecting to shop more online in the next one to two years – this will require change at an extraordinary pace, however there’s a clear opportunity for companies to grasp this and thrive.”

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