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Published on May 11th, 2021 | by The GC Team

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April sales bounce-back a “promising sign”?

The reopening of non-essential stores in April provided a considerable rise in retail sales across the full month, compared to April 2019 – the year-on-two-year measure now reflecting a more meaningful comparison for sales, given the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

According to the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor, sales increased 7.3% on a total basis: “Promising signs but not out of the woods,” the two organisations acknowledged.

On a like-for-like basis, sales saw a huge 46.3% increase from April 2019, but online sales play a far greater role in the like-for-like measure, as can be seen in the quarterly figures.

In the three months to April, Non-Food retail sales increased by 25.1% on a Like-for-Like basis and 2.4% on a Total basis, while In-Store sales of Non-Food items increased 1.6% on a Like-for-Like basis yet declined 30.9% on Total.

Online Non-Food sales during the month of April alone rose 57.4%, against growth of 4.3% in April 2019, but the online penetration rate declined from 68.8% in April last year (first lockdown) to 41.5% this April.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, noted that non-food sales across stores and online increased by a quarter between March and April and said short-term pent-up demand for the shopping experience drew consumers back to stores.

“It is great to see customers feeling confident visiting shops, a testament to the ongoing investment by retailers in making their stores, warehouses, and deliveries Covid-secure.”

Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail at KPMG, said: “Remembering that this time last year we were in lockdown, there are some outstanding growth figures in April especially in non-food… Retailers will be delighted with the way the reopening of the high street was greeted by shoppers eager to get into stores and engage once more with physical shopping.

“Online sales continued to grow across most categories, but at a reduced rate as many consumers stepped away from their computers to head outside. This maybe has come as a surprise, although it does showcase that some changes in consumer behaviour are here to stay.”

Promising signs but we’re not out of the woods yet

“While the boost in sales is positive as the industry continues to invest in safety and the online offer, high streets still have a long way to go on the path to recovery,” said the BRC’s Dickinson.

“There are 530,000 people who work in retail still on furlough. This and the end of the full business rates relief in England in June jeopardises the future of many stores and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.”

KPMG’s Paul Martin added: “Conditions will remain challenging as Government support tails away over the summer and interest and repayments on CBILS and bounce back loans will need to start being paid back, alongside deferred rental payments.”

He also acknowledged that retailers face “an interesting few months” as they assess the level at which online shopping falls back and suggested that full reopening of the hospitality sector will likely see a dilution in retail spend in favour of leisure, entertainment and hospitality. 

“Retailers will be hoping that with the increasing positive signs of the economy improving, market conditions offer scope to spark a big surge in consumer spending this summer.”

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