// Retail sales soared 9.2% in April compared with March as lockdown restrictions eased, according to the ONS
// Sales were up 43% against April 2020, and up 9.9% compared with the last month of trading before the Covid-19 lockdowns started
// Online-only retailers have been the biggest winners, with sales up 56% when compared with April 2019
Retailers enjoyed a surge in spending as shoppers flocked to high streets following the easing of restrictions that saw non-essential stores reopening after the most recent lockdown.
According to the ONS, overall retail sales in April jumped 9.2 per cent compared with March, third consecutive month of recovery. as as life begins to return to normal.
The biggest driver in April’s sales growth was fashion, with sales up 69.4 per cent, followed by other non-food retailers which saw 25.3 per cent growth.
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Shoppers focused on clothes for enjoying new freedoms, including outerwear and knitwear, compared with period shopping habits of wearing comfortable clothes for being stuck indoors.
Compared with April 2020, during the first national lockdown which left high streets deserted, retail sales were up 43.4 per cent and were also up 9.9 per cent compared with February 2020, the last full month before the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect.
However, the ONS added that with stores reopening, online retailers across all sectors saw a fall in sales as shoppers opted to ditch their computers and smartphones and head to the high street instead.
Online spending decreased in April by 5.6 per cent when compared with March, while the reopening of shops saw the proportion of retail spending online decline to 30 per cent from 34.7 per cent in March.
Despite shoppers returning to stores again, the ONS said it had seen long-term trends emerge from the pandemic that look set to stay.
It found online-only retailers were the biggest winners from the pandemic, with sales up 56 per cent compared with April 2019.
There were signs that the reopening of pubs and restaurants to outdoor diners was starting to have an impact on food sales, with volumes falling 0.9 per cent in April, following three months of growth.
However, sales in the sector remain 8.6 per cent higher than in February 2020, the ONS added.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said that while pent-up demand continued to be released in stores, the number of shoppers on high streets is still 40 per cent down and 530,000 retail workers remain on furlough.
“Pent-up demand built up during lockdown continues to be released as the reopening of non-essential retail offered the public a welcomed opportunity to visit many of their favourite shop,” she said.
“Improved weather during April meant greater sales of fashion, particularly in outerwear and knitwear, as the public renewed their wardrobe and made plans to meet friends and family outdoors.
“Online sales also continued to perform strongly, rewarding those retailers who had invested in their online and delivery operations during the pandemic.”
Dickinson added that the Government must help stores maintain growth by ensuring a long-awaited business rates overhaul provides significant change to help retailers in the future.
with PA Wires