News | Published April 24 2020

Steepest decline in retail sales since data collection began amid coronavirus pandemic

Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that retail sales in the UK fell by over five per cent last month as shops remain shut due to the countrywide lockdown.

The fall of 5.1 per cent is the steepest decline since the ONS began to collect data in 1996. Both food sales and online shopping rose, and sales of alcohol increased by 31 per cent. However, clothes sales declined by 34 per cent.

According to the ONS, online shopping now amounts for 22 per cent of all total sales, a record high.

The chief executive of Retail Economics, Richard Lim, said that: "Retailers are in crisis mode as the impact of Covid-19 has obliterated sales to new record-lows.”

Jan Vlieghe, a top policymaker for the Bank of England said that the country faces its worst economic shock in centuries. He said that the UK was "experiencing an economic contraction that is faster and deeper than anything we have seen in the past century, or possibly several centuries".

However, Vlieghe noted that it was possible for the country to return to its "pre-virus trajectory once the pandemic is over".

The pandemic has already resulted in the closure of a range of shops including Debenhams, Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston. Compared with February, sales have dropped by 3.7 per cent, a record from the beginning of data collection in 1988.

It is unclear whether the pandemic has changed consumer behaviour for good. Lisa Hooker, the consumer markets leader at PwC said that: "We don't expect the pattern of post-lockdown spending to be exactly the same as before, with our latest survey indicating that consumers intend to reward more responsible retailers.

"Particularly those who looked after their staff, and shop more on their local high streets and with smaller or independent retailers, giving some more hope to many of the hardest-hit operators."

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Authored by

Alice Jaspars
Culture Editor
April 24 2020

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