Online sales rise in October following new Covid restrictions

Online sales increased by 86% on a like-for-like basis in October, boosted as physical shopping declined in many areas following the introduction of stricter regional Covid-19 lockdown measures across the UK, according to the latest BDO High Street Sales Tracker.

This follows a small dip in eCommerce sales in the last few months compared to the peak lockdown period in the Spring. It is expected online sales will now shift even further online after a new four-week national lockdown began in England this week, in which non-essential retail shops have closed.

Total sales for October went up for the first time since January, by 1.6%, according to the tracker, as retail experienced a good start to its ‘golden quarter’. However, BDO said this boost “risks being undermined” by the new restrictions.

Overall, in-store sales fell by 27.7% in October, with each sector recording a negative result. In lifestyle, in-store revenue declined by 19.8%, while for fashion it fell by 36.2%, the ninth and eighth consecutive months of negative sales, consecutively.

Additionally, homeware ended a three-month run of either positive or flat in-store sales, reducing by 6.4% on a like-for-like basis.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO LLP, commented: “October, while difficult, saw green shoots for the high street and signs of renewed consumer spending. A new lockdown that includes the closure of non-essential shops, however, coupled with ambiguity around Brexit, and little time for adaptation, has poisoned any potential recovery. This has landed retailers in a worst-case scenario in the middle of the critical golden quarter.

“High street brands have spent significant sums to ensure their stores are Covid-secure and build consumer confidence to shop in-store, investment that may now feel wasted.

“New lockdown measures will only add to the woes of many struggling retailers. The accelerated shift online has forced retailers to focus on their online channel and operational logistics, and the closure of stores will inevitably lead to an even faster shift to online. Many may find that their infrastructures are just not there to cope with all sales going through this single channel at a time of peak seasonal trading.”