New research has found that grocery sales have boosted overall retail sales in March, despite many categories remaining in decline due to the pandemic.
According to KPMG and the British Retail Consortium (BRC)’s retail sales monitor, total retail sales rose by 8.3% in March compared to the same period in 2019, with like-for-like sales jumping 8.4% on the same basis.
During the three months to March, on a two-year basis, in-store sales of non-food products dropped 44.4% in total and by 44% on a like-for-like basis.
However, online non-food sales increased by 94% on a two-year basis, emphasising consumer’s shift towards purchasing products online over the past year.
Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, said: “As we pass the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, the retail industry has generally remained strong, despite numerous challenges.
“2020 was a year like no other, with panic buying followed by a sharp decline in consumer spend, and then the first national lockdown which resulted in erratic retail sales. This makes a direct comparison challenging, so for a truer indication of where the industry stands, we changed our year-on-year comparisons for a two-year, pre-pandemic comparison period.”
She added: “March 2021 saw an 8.3% increase in spending compared to March 2019, which was largely driven by grocery spending. However, the majority of categories remain in decline, and fashion and footwear remain the hardest hit.
“Meanwhile, with many stores still closed, online purchases reached the highest on record, particularly for TVs, gaming consoles and laptops.”
Paul Martin, UK head of Retail for KPMG, said: “One year on from our first national lockdown the retail sector has changed dramatically, but remains remarkably resilient. March last year was a real anomaly and unlike anything we have seen before, with queues of consumers panic buying items and images of empty shelves across our media.
“Whilst a direct comparison of March 2021 with the previous year is therefore difficult, comparing retail sales of March 2021 to March 2019 reveals total sales have grown by 8.3%, despite the challenges of the last 12 months.”
He added: “In that context last month saw historic growth rates in online sales, with some categories like Men’s and Children’s clothing and Furniture reaching triple digits.
“This is testament to how retailers, many of which have spent much of the last year with their doors closed, have embraced trading through lockdown via digital platforms.”