Coronavirus: Retail sales crash in April as lockdown hits shops

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British retail sales fell by a record 18.1% in April as many stores were closed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The drop in April worsened from a fall of 5.2% in March, when the government first introduced lockdown measures.

Clothing sales plummeted by 50.2% as many High Street shops were shut, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Online shopping as a proportion of all retail reached a record high of 30.7%, the ONS said.

All types of shop, other than those selling clothing or household goods, saw record amounts being spent with them online.

But overall, the three-monthly growth rate in retail sales, including physical shops and petrol, slumped by 8.6%.

Every sector other than food and online shopping saw a fall.

Shift to online

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, said that the shift to online had benefitted “those retailers with the slickest e-commerce operations and who managed to cope with the shift in demand.

“Online grocery retailers were one of the major beneficiaries as they worked at an incredible pace to boost capacity.”

In April, the proportion of online spending on food increased from 5.7% to 9.3%, according to the ONS.

Elsewhere, off-licence sales also continued to increase by 2.3%, having shot up by 23.9% in March.

Shops ‘paralysed’ by lockdown

Mr Lim added that that the impact of lockdown had “paralysed” the industry.

“Clothing retailers were the hardest hit as the absence of social interaction, whether that’s going to work, seeing friends or heading off on holiday, decimated demand for new outfits,” he said.

The fall in non-food sales in April resulted in the lowest levels of clothing and shoe sales seen since the ONS starting collecting the data.

But Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “Retail sales should recover some of April’s lost ground in May.”

He said that was despite the fact that lockdown measures on store closures in England haven’t changed significantly since they were introduced.

Since the start of lockdown, garden centres have been allowed to open again in England, while other retailers classified as essential, such as DIY stores, re-opened around the end of April.

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