Sharpest decline on record as sales fall amid lockdown

Total retail sales tumbled by 19.1% in the four weeks ended 2 May, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. 

This was a notable decrease against the 2.4% sales increase recorded the year prior, and the “worst decline recorded” since the monitor began in January 1995.

Like-for-like retail sales increased 5.7% against the year prior, though this figure was measured by excluding temporarily closed stores but including online sales, which is what “primarily drove” this figure. 

Meanwhile, over the three months to April, in-store sales of non-food items crashed 36% on a total basis and 17.3% on a like-for-like basis. In April alone, like-for-like sales excluding temporarily closed “non-essential” stores was in double digit decline.

In the same period, food sales rose 6% on a like-for-like basis and 4.5% on a total basis, higher than the 12-month total average growth of 1.6%. For the month of April, however, food was in decline year-on-year.

Nonetheless, in light of the nationwide lockdown, online non-food sales rocketed 57.9% in April, against a growth of only 4% the year prior. 

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “With the nation firmly under lockdown throughout April, drastic retail sales declines were to be expected. 

“Total sales fell a staggering 19.1% compared to last year – eclipsing any previous fall since records began – but that pain hasn’t been felt equally.”

He added: “Aside from ‘essential’ retailers still operating physically, consumers have had little alternative but to log-on, and online sales were up nearly 60%. The disparities in retail continue, not only between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’, but also between those with an online channel and those without. 

“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.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said:Food sales were disappointing, with the virus preventing large family gatherings and turning Easter into a more modest affair. 

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

She added: “Coronavirus has accelerated many of the trends seen prior to the outbreak and it is likely that as the lockdown wears on, these new shopping habits – such as the trend towards online purchases – will become more entrenched for many consumers.”

“While retailers have a lifeline through various Government loans and support, they need to know this will continue beyond the current deadlines. Government should also step in to support rents for those retailers still facing rent costs, despite little or no sales.” 

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