Record fall in April retail sales; Food sales hit

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Retail sales saw record decline in April as coronavirus lockdown closed much of the sector throughout the month.

Sales decreased by 19.1 percent in April on a total basis, against an increase of 2.4 percent in the same months a year ago, the latest BRC data showed.

The steep decline eclipsed any previous fall since records began.

Like-for-like sales increased by 5.7 percent when excluding temporarily closed stores, primarily driven by online sales, which were up nearly 60 percent.

“Few physical stores, or indeed retailers, were open for business in the month, making like-for-like comparisons hard to establish, but the ability to continue trading or leverage online channels was beneficial for the fortunate few though,” said Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG.

“The disparities in retail continue, not only between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’, but also between those with an online channel and those without. Eyes are firmly fixed on how the easing of restrictions will impact consumer spending going forwards, with the acceleration of online sales likely here to stay and overall demand in certain categories, like fashion, remaining subdued for some time.”

Food sales have also taken the hit in April, declining year on year, though the three-month period to April has seen 6 percent jump on a like-for-like basis and 4.5 percent on a total basis.

“April was another busy month for food retailers as they adapted to in-store social distancing and built capacity for surging demand in online shopping,” commented Susan Barratt, chief executive of IGD.

“However, sales were more restrained than the high peaks of March and current restrictions on social gatherings will have dampened any seasonal boost expected from Easter.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of British Retail Consortium (BRC), urged the government to continue support retailers.

“While retailers have a lifeline through various government loans and support, they need to know this will continue beyond the current deadlines,” she said.

“Government should also step in to support on rents for those retailers still facing rent costs, despite little or no sales. Without this, businesses may be forced to close – threatening jobs and further harming local communities.”