Covid-19: UK retail sales in record decline

UK retail sales decreased by 19.1% year on year in April, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

The drop in revenue for the four-week period between 5 April and 2 May represented the sharpest monthly decline since the BRC began monitoring sales activity in January 1995, and comes after a year-on-year sales increase of 2.4% in April 2019.

According to the trade association, the fall in retail spending reflected the effect of lockdown measures implemented by the government to halt the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, which resulted in ‘non-essential’ shops temporarily closing throughout April. The three-month and 12-month average sales declines are 7.5% and 2.3% respectively, which are both record declines in themselves. 

Over the three months to April, in-store sales of non-food items declined by 36%, while food sales rose by 4.5%.

Online non-food sales increased by 57.9% in April, against a growth of 4% in April 2019, well above the 12-month average growth of 8.5% which is perhaps unsurprising as most retailers of this type were only operating online during the period. The non-food online penetration rate increased from 29.9% in April 2019 to 69.9% this April.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the BRC, called food sales “disappointing”, attributing this performance to the virus preventing large family gatherings and turning Easter into “a more modest affair”.

Clothing, footwear and large household items declined considerably, according to the BRC, while the proportion of goods purchased online rose sharply, with items such as games consoles, bicycles, office equipment, and haberdashery performing well.

“However, even the dramatic rise in online sales could not make up for the loss of in-store purchases,” Dickinson explained.

“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.”