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Online retail sales hit new record but fail to offset high street woes
05 March 2021

Online retail sales soared to a new record high in February but this failed to offset another dire month for shops as they remained closed during lockdown, new figures show.

The latest BDO high street sales tracker revealed combined in-store and online like-for-like sales fell 3.1% in February in the second worst month since last August.

Strong online demand for fashion and homewares helped soften the blow as swathes of the high street remained shut, sending internet sales surging by a record 167.3%.

BDO also cheered a “few positive signs” for the battered sector, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing plans for non-essential shops to reopen from 12 April in his roadmap out of lockdown.

It said the sector also broadly welcomed this week’s Budget measures, including further business rates relief (though industry figures maintain a complete overhaul of the tax, which places a disproportionate burden on retailers, is required), restart grants and loans and the extension to the furlough scheme.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “As we mark a year of Covid’s impact on retail and the wider economy, we’ve seen total retail sales decline by around minus 8% on average each month.

“Obviously, there is still a long road ahead but with shops looking at reopening there were a few positive signs this month.”

She added: “A key part of driving forward the UK’s economic recovery is likely to come from unlocking consumer spending.

“To enable this, the retail sector needs to reopen successfully and quickly and the Government’s continued support will be vital to making this happen.”

The report noted a rise in consumer confidence likely as a result of the rapid Covid-19 vaccine, while fashion retailers enjoyed their best result for a year.

The tracker showed fashion sales fell by 3.6%, but this was the smallest decline in a year of falling sales thanks to two weeks of growth in mid-February.

Homewares sales jumped 32.2% across in-store and online as its strong run continued amid the trend for locked down Britons to spruce up their houses during the pandemic.

Lifestyle sales remained under pressure for the third straight month, however, with comparable sales down 15.6% in February.

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