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March retail sales plummet by a record level

Tom Bottomley
16 April 2020

New figures from the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor show that total retail sales decreased by 4.3% in March compared to a decrease of 1.8% in March 2019.

The figures cover the five weeks from 1 March to 4 April 2020, and show the worst decline recorded since the monitor began in January 1995.

Sales before and after the lockdown on 23 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.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) CEO, Helen Dickinson, said: “In March, the necessary measures to fight the spread of coronavirus led to the worst decline in retail sales on record. 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.”

“As 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.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, added: “Retail sales experienced an historic drop in March, with COVID-19 changing the consumer landscape significantly. Lockdown has prompted a fundamental rethink of what is deemed essential. Total sales may ‘only’ be down 4.3%, but the sharp divide between food and non-food, and between physical and online, is far more drastic. Also, the UK’s closure of non-essential stores only started at the backend of the month, so it’s likely worse data is yet to emerge.”

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