Coronavirus: UK retail sales plummet 18.1% in April

22 May 2020

Retail sales in Britain fell by a record 18.1% during April, according to data published on Friday.

Clothing sales plummeted 50.2% last month compared to March, reports City AM, whilst retail sales declined almost four times as much as March’s registered 5.2% drop, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In contrast, online sales soared to 30.7% last month as many stores shifted to online only trading.

However, the three-month on three-month growth rate in the volume of retail sales dropped 8.6%. Every sector apart from non-store retailing and food reported a slump in sales.

According to chief executive of Retail Economics, Richard Lim, the move to online shopping had benefitted "those retailers with the slickest e-commerce operations and who managed to cope with the shift in demand,” BBC reports.

Lim continued: "Online grocery retailers were one of the major beneficiaries as they worked at an incredible pace to boost capacity."

During April, online food spending increased from 5.7% to 9.3%, according to the ONS. 

Moreover, off-licences reported a hike in sales by 2.3%, following a 23.9% rise in March.

Lim added that the impact of the coronavirus lockdown had "paralysed" the industry.

"Clothing retailers were the hardest hit as the absence of social interaction, whether that's going to work, seeing friends or heading off on holiday, decimated demand for new outfits," he said.

However, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: "Retail sales should recover some of April's lost ground in May."

According to Jeremy Thomson Cook, chief economist at Equals: "Today's UK retail sales figures show the nature of consumer facing businesses through the COVID-19 crisis; you have to be online and food or booze related or your sales have been crippled.

"Coronavirus has put the High Street in stasis and the reopening of shopping centres and areas will take a huge amount of time and planning with no guarantee of a full recovery.

"Online fulfilment will remain crucial given shoppers may have the ability to return to shops soon but the desire to physically turn up will likely be lacking,” he went on to say.

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