Figures for retail sales in March have been released, making for grim but predictable reading.
On a Total basis, sales decreased by 4.3% in March, against a decrease of 1.8% in March 2019 which the BRC says is the worst decline recorded since its monitor began in January 1995, excluding distortions.
It is below the 3-month and 12-month average declines of 1.4% and 0.6% respectively.
Sales before and after the lockdown (23rd March) contrasted sharply.
In the first three weeks of March, retail sales grew 12% on a Total basis but declined 27% in the last two weeks of the period.
In March, UK retail sales decreased 3.5% on a Like-for-like basis from March 2019, when they had decreased 3.5% from the preceding year.
Commenting on the results, Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “In March, the necessary measures to fight the spread of coronavirus led to the worst decline in retail sales on record. Furthermore, the headline figure masked even more dramatic swings: food and essentials faced an unprecedented surge in demand in the early part of March, only to drop significantly into negative growth after the lockdown and introduction of social distancing in stores.
The closure of non-essential shops led to deserted high streets and high double-digit declines in sales which even a rise in online shopping could not compensate for. Sales of computers and accessories, board games, and fitness equipment all rose sharply as a result of the move to home-schooling and work-from-home. In contrast, demand for the latest fashion ranges significantly declined.”
She added: “The crisis continues; the retail industry is at the epicentre and the tremors will be felt for a long while yet. Many physical non-food retailers have been forced to shut down entirely or to limit themselves to online only to protect customers and staff. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of jobs at are risk within these companies and their supply chains.
“At the same time, supermarkets brace themselves for lower sales, while still spending huge sums on protective measures, donating to food banks and hiring tens of thousands of temporary staff. We welcome the Government’s actions to date, yet millions of livelihoods rely on their continued support.”