Online sales reach 10-year high

British retailers recorded a 10-year high for online sales in May while the continued lockdown measures kept high streets empty, according to new figures by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST), total like-for-like sales, consisting of both in-store and non-store sales, declined by -18.3% in May, but from a base of +2.2% for May 2019. 

BDO said this was the second worst result on record, just above April’s historic low due to the coronavirus lockdown that has prompted a collapse in consumer discretionary spending.

While in-store sales fell to a “momentous low”, non-store like-for-like sales hit a record high increasing by 129.5% year on year. BDO added that this month’s result is the largest increase since it began recording non-store like-for-like sales in 2010.

It also found lifestyle total life-for-like sales plunged by -30.0% in May from a base of +1.4% for the equivalent month last year, marking the fourth consecutive decline this year, and the second lowest like-for-like on record for the category.

Similarly, fashion total like-for-like sales dropped by -22.6% this month from a base of +2.7% for May last year. The result is the third straight negative result for total fashion like-for-like sales. However, the category did see a slight improvement on previous months due to slightly higher online spending.

While in-store sales for homeware continued to show the impact of the lockdown with a -99.1% drop in May, total like-for-like sales were lifted +22.0% by the strong performance of some pure-play online retailers in the sector in addition to a higher proportion of sales across non-store channels in general.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “Despite the significant pick-up in e-commerce, the monumental collapse in discretionary spend remains stark as retailers continue to face challenging headwinds.

“As shops look to reopen on the 15 June, they will face disrupted supply chains, mounting out of season stock and reduced footfall, as well as staffing uncertainty. These problems will be further compounded with the financial burden of implementing new measures to keep staff and customers safe.”

She added: “While government support so far has provided a lifeline, the reality is that the situation on the high street will remain critical for the foreseeable future. More than ever, retailers will be looking to both central Government and local authorities for creative solutions to ensure the high street has a viable future as lockdown restrictions continue to lift.”

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