Record fall in UK retail sales

22 Jan 2021

Last year saw retail sales record their largest annual decline since 1996 as retailers continue to bear the brunt of the Covid pandemic.

Despite a 0.3% increase in sales volumes last month, the figure for the year as a whole dropped 1.9%, with clothing sales plummeting by more than 25%, Sky News reports.

The slight increase last month was much less than the 1.2% rise forecast by economists, as per data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Although online spending skyrocketed by 46.1% last year, non-essential retail was closed for the majority of 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

According to ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow, the slight rise in December was fuelled by a boost to clothing sales.

However, food sales were "subdued, as retailers reported lockdowns and restrictions on the sale of non-essential items impacted on footfall”.
Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said the figures out on Friday showed the "importance of an online shopfront and engaging virtual shopping experience.
"Whilst the role of the physical store will remain competitive, the wider retail landscape will likely see reinvention. A new era of 'hyper-localisation' and 'fast fail' shops could herald a revived and more relevant high street longer-term," he said.
"For now, pent-up demand is likely to see shoppers out in force once restrictions lift, as we saw in summer at the end of the first lockdown. Crucially, the reopening of the high street will this time coincide with the ongoing vaccine rollout, which should boost consumer confidence and see them return to stores once more."
However, BBC reports, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium called for further help for retailers still impacted by lockdown measures.

"With no end in sight for retailers closed in lockdown, many will struggle to survive under a mounting rent burden, and a return to full business rates in April," she said.

She urged the government to provide "targeted" business rates relief to those worst-hit by the crisis.

"Decisive action is needed to save jobs, shops and local communities, with town and city centres looking to be particularly hard hit unless the government acts now."