Retail Sales Monitor

All Eyes on Stores as They Reopen

  • James Hardiman avatar
    James Hardiman Senior Analyst | BRC

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, BRC: 

“As we pass the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, the retail industry has generally remained strong, despite numerous challenges. 2020 was a year like no other, with panic buying followed by a sharp decline in consumer spend, and then the first national lockdown which resulted in erratic retail sales. This makes a direct comparison challenging, so for a truer indication of where the industry stands, we have changed our year-on-year comparisons for a two-year, pre-pandemic comparison period. March 2021 saw an 8.3% increase in spending compared to March 2019. This was largely driven by grocery spending however the majority of categories remain in decline, and fashion and footwear remain the hardest hit. With many stores still closed, online purchases reached the highest on record, particularly for TVs, gaming consoles and laptops.”

“Despite some product ranges trading well, the next six months will be make or break for many retailers. Over the past three lockdowns, non-food retail stores have lost £30 billion, so many retailers will be relying on growing consumer confidence, and a return to town and city centres to fuel their recovery. Retail businesses have spent hundreds of millions making their stores Covid-secure, so customers can feel safe and confident whilst shopping. We remind people to be considerate and respectful of other shoppers and hard-working retail staff so we can all safely enjoy our nation’s return to its stores.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail, KPMG: 

“One year on from our first national lockdown the retail sector has changed dramatically, but remains remarkably resilient.  March last year was a real anomaly and unlike anything we have seen before, with queues of consumers panic buying items and images of empty shelves across our media.  Whilst a direct comparison of March 2021 with the previous year is therefore difficult, comparing retail sales of March 2021 to March 2019 reveals total sales have grown by 8.3%, despite the challenges of the last 12 months. In that context last month saw historic growth rates in online sales, with some categories like Men’s and Children’s clothing and Furniture reaching triple digits. This is testament to how retailers, many of which have spent much of the last year with their doors closed, have embraced trading through lockdown via digital platforms.

“As we enter the next stage of the Government’s roadmap to recovery this month, high streets across the country will be hoping that pent up demand from consumers will be released and cash registers will start to ring again.  Government support packages will provide some relief to struggling retailers until after the summer, but conditions will continue to be incredibly challenging as they face thinner margins and rising costs. All hopes of a strong recovery now rest on consumers feeling more confident to move away from their homes and hitting the high street to browse the stores that have been out of bounds for months.”

Food & Drink sector performance, Susan Barratt, CEO, IGD: 

“Food and grocery showed a more restrained performance in March, following a strong February and nearly 12 months of elevated performance through the pandemic. However, March was still not a return to what we would usually expect for the time of year, as it was further distorted by the changed timing of Easter. Additionally, trading conditions have still been affected by the ongoing closure of non-essential retail and the out-of-home sector. We are unlikely to see a more settled, post-pandemic food and grocery performance until after restrictions further ease through April and May.

“IGD’s Shopper Confidence Index remained at its highest level since January 2020. Confidence improved towards the end of March as lockdown began to lift and the focus turned to outdoor family gatherings over Easter. While shopper sentiment is likely to improve as the economy opens up from April, confidence is likely to remain polarised, with confidence elevated among higher affluence groups but remaining fragile among lower affluence groups.”


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