Retail sales rise after easing of lockdown, but not yet out of the woods

Retail sales rise after easing of lockdown, but not yet out of the woods
// UK retail sales in April rose 7.3% compared to same month in 2019
// In-store sales of non-food items declined 30.9% on a total sales & increased 1.6% on a like-for-like basis
// Food sales increased 10.3% while non-food sales grew 2.4%

UK retail sales in April have benefitted from pent-up demand after non-essential retailers were allowed to reopen, but experts warn that the sector is not yet out of the woods.

According to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, overall retail sales in April rose 7.3 per cent when compared to the same month in 2019 – when figures were unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rate of growth was above the three-month average of six per cent as pent-up demand and increased confidence enticed shoppers back to stores after more than three months of lockdown, the BRC said.


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On a like-for-like basis, the BRC said retail sales increased 46.3 per cent from April 2019, when they had increased 3.7 per cent from the preceding year.

The BRC highlighted that stores that have closed, are yet to reopen, or are new stores in the last two years were not included in its like-for-like sales figure.

However, it stated that all online sales were included, which meant online sales played a far greater role in like-for-like sales than its overall total sales data.

Many fashion retailers saw an uptick in sales, particularly in outerwear and knitwear, as people could only meet outdoors. Furniture also saw a boost.

Over the three months to April, in-store sales of non-food items declined 30.9 per cent on a total sales and increased 1.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis. This is worse than the 2019 average sales decline of 3.1 per cent.

Food sales in the same three-month period to April increased 9.9 per cent on a like-for-like sales basis and 10.3 per cent on a total sales basis.

The BRC said this was higher than the 2019 total sales average growth of 1.4 per cent.

On the other hand, non-food retail sales over the same three-month period increased by 25.1 per cent on a like-for-like sales basis and 2.4 per cent on a total sales basis.

This is above the 2019 total sales average decline of 1.3 per cent.

The BRC highlighted that in the three weeks following the first reopening of stores across England and Wales, overall non-food sales in the UK increased by approximately 25 per cent in comparison to the levels of spending seen during the previous month under lockdown.

Finally, online non-food sales increased by 57.4 per cent in April, against a growth of 4.3 per cent in April 2019 but the rate of growth was less than the three month average of 82.5 per cent that resulted from lockdown.

The BRC said the figures were good news but warned the industry was still fragile and fraught with uncertainty, especially since around 530,000 retail employees were still on furlough and the government support on business rates was due to come to an end in England.

“With the short-term pent-up demand for the shopping experience drawing consumers back to stores, non-food sales across stores,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

“It is great to see customers feeling confident visiting shops, a testament to the ongoing investment by retailers in making their stores, warehouses, and deliveries Covid-secure.

“However, this sales growth is fragile. There is little competition for share of spending while parts of hospitality, leisure, and tourism remain restricted and inner cities and town centres continue to perform poorly as many people continue to work from home.”

Dickinson also urged the government to reform the business rates system to support retailers with their financial burden and to avoid store closures and job losses.

“The government must deliver on its promise to reform the broken rates system in their ongoing review and reduce the financial burden on retailers, or risk more unnecessary store closures and job losses,” she said.

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