Record sales growth in second quarter as shops reopen

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People wear face masks while shopping at Covent Garden on July 4, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Retailers reported a record annual increase in sales in the three months to the end of June, although growth was flattered by widespread store closures a year earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The British Retail Consortium – members of which tend to be large high-street chains and supermarkets – said on Tuesday that sales in the second quarter of 2021 were 28.4 per cent higher than a year earlier and 10.4 per cent higher than two years before.

The year-on-year increase was the largest since the BRC’s records began in 1995.

“The gradual unlocking of the UK economy encouraged a release of pent-up demand,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

While supermarkets have been trading throughout the pandemic, ‘non-essential’ retailers such as clothing stores were closed for most of this year, before reopening in England on April 12. Dates varied in other parts of the UK.

Total sales in June alone were up 13.1 per cent on two years earlier, compared with growth of 10 per cent in May. Versus last year, sales were 10.4 per cent higher on a total basis and 6.7 per cent higher on a like-for-like basis.

“Fashion and footwear did well while the sun was out in the first half of June, while the start of Euro 2020 provided a boost for TVs, snack food and beer,” Dickinson said.

Data released on Monday for early July showed underwhelming numbers of shoppers during the tournament’s final week.

Payments processor Barclaycard said its measure of consumer spending was also up strongly in June and stood 11.1 per cent higher than in June 2019. In May, the same measure – which is based on almost half of British credit and debit card payments – showed spending was up 7.6 per cent.

Spending on essential items grew 14.7 per cent – the sharpest rise since before the start of the pandemic in March 2020 – driven by strong uplifts in supermarket shopping (19%) and spending at specialist food and drink stores (76.4%) such as butchers, bakeries and off-licenses.

Spending at pubs and bars soared by 38 per cent compared with two years ago, the first growth since September, and non-essential items performed strongly overall, rising 9.4 per cent – the largest growth since the onset of Covid-19..

“June saw Brits flock back to pubs, bars and beer gardens to watch the football and tennis on the big screens, as the heatwave early in the month encouraged many of us to get out in the sunshine and socialise,” Barclaycard’s head of consumer products, Raheel Ahmed, said.