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Retailers saw “green shoots of recovery” in March with online sales rocketing

Tom Bottomley
09 April 2021

Retailers recorded a positive sales result for March 2021, set against a poor base of March 2020, with total like-for-like retail sales – combining in-store and online – increasing by +42.5% against -17.9% for the equivalent month last year.

Lockdown 3 has seen online sales rocket to the second highest on record, as total non-store like-for-like sales grew by +157.2% in March 2021, compared to a base of +13.7% in March 2020, with fashion, lifestyle and homeware sectors all recording positive results, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker.

Fashion total like-for-like sales grew by +57.5% last month, from a base of -25.9% in March 2020. That marks the first positive result for fashion since February 2020, buoyed by three weeks of positive like-for-like sales.

Lifestyle total like-for-like sales rose by +14.7% in March, offsetting a base of -11.6% for the equivalent month last year. That result marks the first positive one for total lifestyle since November 2020.

Rounding out the sectors, homeware saw the biggest uplift at +112.6% in March, though from a base of -9.7% for the same month last year.

In the current lockdown many retailers have managed to find new ways to adapt and encourage sales, helping to sustain a still diminished number of transactions through in-store channels relative to the same month last year when nearly all trading halted.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “While this is a positive result, these March figures are set against a highly disruptive March 2020. While the first lockdown took effect in the final week of March last year, discretionary spend decreased rapidly from February as uncertainty and concerns over COVID-19 spread across the country.

Sales have improved, without a doubt, as retailers have found ways to adapt to lockdown. From virtual assistants, to live video sales appointments, retailers have found technological solutions to drive sales, instead of simply shutting down like they did last year. However, as last March’s result was so disastrous, these results simply look better on paper as they’re set against such a poor base.

“As retailers reopen next week, we’ll likely see a short-term surge in sales thanks to pent up demand, an uptick of consumer confidence and shoppers simply being ready to leave their homes after four long months of lockdown.

It remains to be seen how sustainable this initial rush will be as the next six weeks is unlikely to be an accurate prediction of retail activity over the next six to twelve months. Nevertheless, the reopening of the economy with all non-essential retailers able to open their doors will provide a much awaited and welcome boost to bricks and mortar retailers.”

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