Retail sales reported the sharpest fall on record last month as clothing sales plunged by a third, according to new figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said total sales volumes dived 5.1% as many stores shut their doors in the face of the coronavirus.
It added that clothing store sales saw a particularly sharp fall when compared with February, moving 34.8% lower.
Meanwhile, food stores reported their strongest growth on record in March, as sales jumped 10.4% with shoppers stocking up on essential groceries.
In March 2020, retail sales volumes fell sharply by 5.1% as many stores ceased trading from the 23rd March, following official government guidance during the #coronavirus pandemic.— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) April 24, 2020
This was the largest fall since the series began https://t.co/s8b9bwOHHZ pic.twitter.com/9H2Mi7E0iq
Supermarkets saw sales volumes increase by 10.3% while alcohol-focused stores saw a 31.4% surge in volumes.
Meanwhile, the ONS said the total value of online food sales in March was more than double the same month last year, rising by 101%.
Rhian Murphy, head of retail sales at the ONS, said: “Retail sales saw their biggest monthly fall since records began over 30 years ago with large declines in clothing and fuel, only partially offset by strong food sales.
“Online-only retailers saw strong growth though, with many high street stores also unsurprisingly seeing a boost to web sales.”
Total sales declined as increases in online sales failed to offset lower in-store sales, after non-essential stores were told to close their doors on March 23.
It said a record high of 22.3% of sales were made online as delivery operations continued.
Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at Crimson Black Capital, said: “This is retail Armageddon.
“While the January retail sales data showed signs of the Boris Bounce, the March data reflected the Covid-19 collapse.
“Unsurprisingly, food stores performed well in March and more people than ever started to buy online.”
Fiona Cincotta, financial market analyst at GAIN capital, said: “The data only captures the start of the lockdown, so we know these figures are going to get a lot worse.
“Added to that, without a vaccine it is highly unlikely that there will be a quick rebound in the retail sector.
“Even when the UK starts to ease lockdown restrictions and reopen its economy, there will almost certainly be restrictions on shops, with limits to customer numbers at any one time.”