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Retail ‘deeply depressed’ amid Covid-19 shutdown, CBI finds
26 May 2020

Retail sales bounced back from April’s record lows but still remained “deeply depressed” over the last 12 months as four in five retailers say they are facing cashflow difficulties.

New data from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found its measure of retail sales volume had picked up from -55% to -50% in May.

April’s figures were the joint-fastest declines in the survey’s 37-year history but a bounce in the grocery sector offset some of this a month later.

“The retail sector is at the sharp end of a crisis, with many businesses up against it,” said Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI’s chief economist.

“The Government’s support packages are making a real difference, with more shops reporting that jobs have been furloughed, rather than lost. The furlough system will need to adapt as more businesses open their doors in the months ahead.”

The survey, which measures responses from 87 retailers, found sales volumes are expected to fall again next month. The drop will likely once more be a little slower, but still at historically poor rates.

A Covid-19 survey run by the CBI also suggested the disruption to supply chains has become worse since April, with 58% of retailers now saying they are struggling to get enough of some goods.

Others are experiencing high levels of shipping delays and constrained capacity.

Around 80% of retailers reported they were having difficulty with cashflow. This was down from 96% in last month’s figures, the CBI said. Just over half have reported laying off staff temporarily.

Newton-Smith added: “As we gradually reopen the economy, retailers may yet need more support from the Government if demand falters.

“Ensuring safety in the workplace remains the top priority as more firms look to bring staff back to work. Many challenges remain in managing supply chains and costs in a tough environment.”

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