Coronavirus: UK Retail sales at lowest levels since 1995

By guest author Sahar Nazir from Retail Gazette

  • Retail sales declined 19.1% from April 5 to May 2
  • This is the worst decline since January 1995 according to BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor

Retail sales have seen a record decline in April as the coronavirus lockdown continues to take its toll on the sector.

On a total basis, sales decreased by 19.1 %  between April 5 and May 2, against an increase of 2.4 %  in April 2019, according to the latest BRC–KPMG retail sales monitor.

This marks the worst decline since the monitor was introduced in January 1995, and reflects the impact of lockdown measures.

It is also below the three-month and 12-month average declines of 7.5 %  and 2.3 %  respectively, both record declines in themselves.

Meanwhile, retail sales in the UK increased 5.7 %  on a like-for-like basis from April 2019, when they had increased two %  from the preceding year.

In April, like-for-like sales was measured by excluding temporarily closed stores (but including online sales); therefore the figure is primarily driven by online sales.

Over the three months to April, in-store sales of non-food items declined by 36.0 %  on a total basis and 17.3 %  on a like-for-like basis.

This is worse than the 12-month total average decline of 11.5 % .

Food sales increased 6.0 %  on a like-for-like basis and 4.5 %  on a total basis – higher than the 12-month total average growth of 1.6 % .

Moreover, online sales increased by 57.9 %  in April, against a growth of 4.0 %  in April 2019. This is above the 12-month average growth of 8.5 % .

“With lockdown measures in full swing, April saw a record fall in retail sales. Food sales were disappointing, with the virus preventing large family gatherings and turning Easter into a more modest affair,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

“For many non-food goods, such as clothing, footwear and large household items, the decline was particularly steep as consumers responded to lockdown conditions.

“The proportion of goods purchased online rose sharply, with products such as games consoles, bicycles, office equipment, and haberdashery, all high on the list.

“However, even the dramatic rise in online sales could not make up for the loss of instore purchases.

“Coronavirus has accelerated many of the trends seen prior to the outbreak and it is likely that as the lockdown wears on, these new shopping habits – such as the trend towards online purchases – will become more entrenched for many consumers.

“While retailers have a lifeline through various government loans and support, they need to know this will continue beyond the current deadlines. government should also step in to support on rents for those retailers still facing rent costs, despite little or no sales.

“Without this, businesses may be forced to close – threatening jobs and further harming local communities.”

KPMG head of UK retail Paul Martin said: “With the nation firmly under lockdown throughout April, drastic retail sales declines were to be expected.”

“Aside from ‘essential’ retailers still operating physically, consumers have had little alternative but to log-on, and online sales were up nearly 60 % .

“Eyes are firmly fixed on how the easing of restrictions will impact consumer spending going forwards, with the acceleration of online sales likely here to stay and overall demand in certain categories, like fashion, remaining subdued for some time.”