Retail sales rise above seasonal norms for first time this year

Kingston upon Thames, April 2021

Retail sales have risen above seasonal norms for the first time this year as spring and the reopening of non-essential stores brought relief to the sector.

April’s retail sales volumes were viewed as “good” for the time of year for not only the first time this year but also to the greatest extent since June 2018, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

The survey of 124 businesses, including 60 retailers, showed sales are expected to remain above seasonal norms in the year to May, with non-essential retail stores across the UK able to reopen by late April.

Some 48 businesses reported sales volumes are up on a year ago, 25 said they are the same and 28 said they are down.

The hardware and DIY and furniture and carpets sectors saw sales reach significantly above seasonal norms as consumers focused on home improvements.

Grocers and non-store retailers also reported “good” sales for the time of the year. However, clothing and footwear store sales remained well below seasonal norms.

Annual sales volumes rose at the fastest pace since September 2018 in the year to April, although the comparison was affected by the first national lockdown this time last year.

Internet sales continued to grow at an above-average pace and are expected to do so again in the year to May.

The volume of orders placed by retailers with their suppliers was broadly unchanged in the year to April, but is expected to fall slightly in the year to May.

“Despite progress along the road map, the impact of Covid-19 restrictions are still biting hard”

Ben Jones, CBI

CBI principal economist Ben Jones said: “Springtime has brought some relief to the retail sector, with non-essential stores in England and Wales reopening earlier this month, and retailers in Scotland and Northern Ireland following suit in the final week of April.

“Despite progress along the road map, the impact of Covid-19 restrictions are still biting hard.

“The improvement in retail sales this month was driven by sectors that have performed relatively well during the pandemic, with little immediate rebound expected for more embattled sectors such as clothing, footwear and department stores.

“And retailers are still facing challenges around inventory management and their supply chains, amid trade disruption, big shifts in consumer behaviour, and uncertainty over how long some degree of social distancing could remain in place.”