UK retail shows best sales performance quarter on record

Oxford Street
Shoppers on London's Oxford Street

Sunshine, staycations, Euro 2020 and pent-up demand from shoppers all contributed to a record retail sales levels over the past three months, with the appetite for shopping well and truly back following the easing of lockdown restrictions in April.

Over the three-months to June 2021, non-food retail sales increased by 12.4% on a total basis and 45.2% on a like-for-like basis compared with pre-pandemic 2019. That’s above the 2019 total average decline of 1.3%, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Online non-food sales increased by 31.3% in June, against a growth of 1.5% in June 2019. That’s below the three-month average of 40.3%.

On a like-for-like basis, sales increased 17% in June 2021, compared with pre-pandemic June 2019. On a total basis, sales increased by 13.1% in June, against a decline of 1.3% in June 2019. That was above the three-month average growth of 10.4%.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “The second quarter of 2021 saw exceptional growth as the gradual unlocking of the UK economy encouraged a release of pent-up demand built up over previous lockdowns. In June, while growth in food sales begun to slow, non-food sales were bolstered by growing consumer confidence and the continued unleashing of consumer demand.

“With many people taking staycations, or cheaper UK-based holidays, many have found they have a little extra to spend at the shops, with strong growth in-store in June. Fashion and footwear did well while the sun was out in the first half of June, while the start of Euro 2020 provided a boost for TVs, snack food and beer.

“Nonetheless, UK retail is still facing strong headwinds with many retailers still making up for ground lost during the previous lockdowns. City centre retailers continue to suffer low footfall and spending as commuters and international tourist numbers remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

“Consumer comfort with the next stage of the roadmap will be key to the ongoing success of retail. Many customers are looking forward to a return to a more normal shopping experience, while others may be discouraged by the change in face covering rules. The government will need to reassure the public on safety, while pushing forward with its hugely successful vaccination programme.

“The public will also need to be understanding of one another during the easing of restrictions; there has been a big rise in violence and abuse against retail workers during the pandemic and colleagues cannot be put in the firing line because of this change in policy.”

All 2021 figures are compared with pre-pandemic 2019 as 2020 was such a turbulent year in which much of retail bounced between being open and closed, “significantly impacting sales” and the ability to make meaningful comparisons.