News | Published May 24 2020

Retail sales in April fall by record levels

The Office for National Statistics [ONS] has revealed that British retail sales declined by a record amount of 18.1 per cent in April, as the Covid-19 lockdown took its toll on shops.

Retail sales had fallen 5.2 per cent over March, reflecting one week of lockdown, prior to April's steeper decline.

The closure of the high street saw clothes sales drop by as much as 50.2 per cent in April, while online shopping accounted for 30.7 per cent of all retail sales over the month.

Every sector other than food and online shopping saw sales drop off over April. Meanwhile, all categories of shop, excluding clothes retailers and household goods vendors, saw record amounts of online sales activity.

ONS figures show that the proportion of online spending on food rose by 3.6 per cent in April, up to 9.3 per cent.

Sales within off-licences have also increased for successive months, having risen by 23.9 per cent over March and by a further 2.3 per cent in April.

Retail Economics chief executive Peter Lim said that the beneficiaries during the period were retailers with strong e-commerce operations and those who were able to adjust to the shift in demand.

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

However, Lim added that the lockdown had hit clothing retailers the hardest, due to the lack of social interaction brought about by social distancing and with it, reduced demand for new clothes.

The decline in non-food sales over April brought with it the lowest levels of monthly clothing and shoe sales seen since the ONS first started recording such data.

Clothing retailer Primark has seen its sales slump from £650 million per month to nought as a result of store closures, since it does not run an online purchasing domain.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, has predicted that retail sales will “recover lost ground” in May as some restrictions have begun to ease, including garden centres being allowed to reopen in England.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
May 24 2020

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