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Clothing sales more than 50 % down in April

Lauretta Roberts
22 May 2020

Sales of clothing were down 50.2% month on month in April, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, which reveal an 18.1% drop in retail overall.

Clothing sales were the hardest hit of all sectors by the COVID-19 lockdown and had already been down 34.9% in March as the pandemic started to hit in the UK.

Sales from household goods stores fell 45.4%, on the back of an 8.7% drop from February to March. Supermarkets also saw a fall of 2.8%, having seen sales increase 10.4% in March.

The results come in the same week Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned the UK was “likely to face a severe recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen”.

The only sectors doing well in the current in the current climate were non-store retailing, such as online only and catalogue businesses, and off licences.

Non-store retailing saw rises of 18%, while off licences saw sales increase by 2.3%. The proportion spent online rose to 30.7% in April, the highest on record, up from 19.1% over the same month last year.

Almost all store types reached record proportions of online spending in April, the ONS said, as many retailers shifted to online trading only.

Jonathan Athow, ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: “The effects of Covid-19 have contributed to a record monthly fall in retail sales of nearly a fifth.

“Fuel and clothing sales fell significantly while spending on food also dropped after the surge from the panic buying seen last month. Off-licence sales, however, continued to increase. Online shopping has again surged as people purchased goods from their homes.”

Dr Kerstin Braun, president of trade finance provider Stenn Group, predicted that the pandemic would change the retail landscape forever.

“A record number of people joined the unemployment ranks in April and some eight million are receiving 80% pay through the furlough programme, which has been extended until the end of October,” she said.

“This is not an environment for free-wheeling consumer spending, as demonstrated in the record 18.1% decline of retail sales in April, following the 5.2% fall in March.”

She added: “The pandemic has hastened structural changes to the retail sector that were in motion before the pandemic, in particular the increase in online shopping which has soared to the highest on record.

Department stores, malls, and fast fashion were already in decline, giving way to online shopping and the less-is-more attitude of millennial shoppers.”

Kyle Monk, Head of Retail Insight and Analytics at the British Retail Consortium, added: “The RSI confirms what store managers and shop owners have already seen – that coronavirus continues to be a threat to the survival of shops up and down the country. Clothing stores were particularly hard hit by lockdown, with sales down almost 70% since February.

"Many of these stores will be relying on a successful opening in June if they are to survive. Digital sales soared, with the proportion spent online rising to three in every ten pounds. Not only were many items ordinarily found on the high street, only available online, but many people moved to food delivery in response to the coronavirus threat.

Retailers urgently need clarity on the reopening of shops in June. Shops need time to prepare and the certainty to do so, before they spend millions on necessary safety and social distancing measures. By getting more of retail up and running, not only can customers get all the products they need, but the industry can play its part in protecting jobs and kick starting the economy.”

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