Covid-19: Online sales surge in May as retailers continue to struggle

eCommerce sales continued to grow rapidly in May as the Covid-19 lockdown continued, including a 60.2% rise in online non-food sales, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. Overall sales fell by 5.9% in the period covering 3-30 May 2020, the second worst decline since the monitor began in January 1995. This did, however, represent an improvement on April’s figures, which saw overall retail sales fall by 19.1% year-on-year.

The growth in online non-food sales was unsurprisingly well above the 12-month average increase of 12.9%. And with non-essential retail stores remaining shut, the non-food online penetration rate increased to 61.9% last month, up from 31.4% in May 2019.

There was a 50.3% fall in in-store sales of non-food items in the three months to May, while during the same period, in-store food sales went up by 5.6%. Overall, non-food retail sales decreased by 21.8% in this three-month period, significantly below the 12-month total average decline of 6.4%.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG said: "May presented yet another testing month for retailers, with total sales down by 5.9%. The decline is less drastic when compared to April’s fall of 19.1%, however we are comparing performance to the record low of May 2019.

“The disparity between different types of retailers and categories continues, with clear divides between essential and online versus non-essential and physical.”

The figures do provide some room for optimism for retailers ahead of the reopening of non-essential stores from next week.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC commented: "Sales in May demonstrated yet another month of struggle for retailers across the country, despite an improvement on the previous month.

“Nonetheless, as the sun came out and restaurants lay dormant, food sales rose with consumers taking to their local parks for beers, BBQs and picnics. Clothing and beauty sales improved slightly on April, as people left their homes to meet outside with friends and family. Continuing the lockdown trend, office supplies, fitness equipment and bicycles all performed well, thanks to strong online sales and DIY was boosted by the opening of garden centres.”