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Retailers see double-figure collapse in sales as shutdown bites

The total volume of retail sales dropped a record 18.1% in April, as the Chancellor warned the country to brace for recession.


Cyclists ride past shuttered shops on Camden High Street, in north London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Cyclists ride past shuttered shops on Camden High Street, in north London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Cyclists ride past shuttered shops on Camden High Street, in north London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

April saw record-breaking falls in retail sales as hundreds of thousands of businesses were forced to shut up shop to help tackle coronavirus.

The total volume of retail sales fell by 18.1% in April compared to the previous months, the Office or National Statistics (ONS) reported.

There had already been a drop of 5.2% compared to February.


(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Clothing sales were the hardest hit, falling by 50.2% compared to March, a month which had itself seen drops of 34.9% from February’s figures.

Sales from household goods stores fell 45.4%, on the back of an 8.7% drop from February to March.

Supermarkets also saw a fall of 2.8%, having seen sales increase 10.4% in March.

The results come in the same week Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned the UK is “likely to face a severe recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen”.

The only sectors making hay in the current in the current climate were non-store retailing, such as online only and catalogue businesses, and off licences.

Non-store retailing saw rises of 18%, while off licences saw sales increase by 2.3%.

The proportion spent online rose to 30.7% in April, the highest on record, up from 19.1% over the same month last year.

Almost all store types reached record proportions of online spending in April, the ONS said, as many retailers shifted to online trading only.

Jonathan Athow, ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: “The effects of Covid-19 have contributed to a record monthly fall in retail sales of nearly a fifth.

“Fuel and clothing sales fell significantly while spending on food also dropped after the surge from the panic buying seen last month.

“Off-licence sales, however, continued to increase.

“Online shopping has again surged as people purchased goods from their homes.”

Dr Kerstin Braun, president of trade finance provider Stenn Group, predicted that the pandemic would change the retail landscape forever.

“A record number of people joined the unemployment ranks in April and some eight million are receiving 80% pay through the furlough programme, which has been extended until the end of October,” she said.

“This is not an environment for free-wheeling consumer spending, as demonstrated in the record 18.1% decline of retail sales in April, following the 5.2% fall in March.”

She added: “The pandemic has hastened structural changes to the retail sector that were in motion before the pandemic, in particular the increase in online shopping which has soared to the highest on record.

“Department stores, malls, and fast fashion were already in decline, giving way to online shopping and the less-is-more attitude of millennial shoppers.”

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