Retail sees record slump in April

Retail sales slumped by a record 18.1% in April, according to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). 

This marked the worst decline since ONS records began in 1988, and closely follows the “strong” monthly decline of 5.2% that was recorded in March.

All sectors across retail saw a monthly decline in volume sales, apart from a “record increase” of 18% in sales for non-store retailing, as well as an increase of 2.3% in alcohol store sales.

In light of the ongoing lockdown, clothing sales in April plummeted by 50.2% when compared with the month prior. It comes after these sales had already fallen by 34.9% in March.

As people stayed at home, however, the proportion of online sales soared to the highest on record at 30.7%, which compares with the 19.1% reported in April 2019.

In total, the three-month on three-month growth rate in the volume of retail sales decreased by 8.6%, with declines across all sectors apart from food and non-store retailing.

Food stores reported a 4.1% decrease in sales for the month, though this was mainly due to a “fall back” from the strong growth of 10.1% recorded in March amid panic buying. 

The ONS said that the nationwide lockdown imposed on 23 March impacted many businesses across the retail sector, with many reporting zero turnover in light of enforced closures. 

Jacqui Baker, director and retail specialist at RSM said: “UK retail sales break records again this month but for all the wrong reasons. 

“With total sales for April decreasing by 23.1% compared with last year, it’s impossible to downplay the long-lasting effects coronavirus will have on the sector.”

She added: “The big winners during the coronavirus pandemic have been those retailers with a core online offering or who were agile enough to step up their online and social presence quickly as lockdown commenced. 

“The year on year boost in online sales as a proportion of total retail reached a record 30.7%, but simply couldn’t make up the shortfall overall. It’s clear that the industry has a huge challenge ahead.”

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