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ONS: Retail Sales Saw Record Decline in 2020

VictorHuang Mask sign store retail shop iStock-1265517689.jpg

The ONS has published Retail Sales data for December 2020, covering the 29th November 2020 to 2nd January 2021.

Key Points:

  • In December 2020, retail sales volumes increased by 0.3% when compared with November 2020, resulting in an increase of 2.7% when compared with February's pre-lockdown level.

  • Clothing stores reported strong monthly growth of 21.5%, rebounding from a large fall in November 2020 when stores were closed because of coronavirus  (COVID-19) restrictions.

  • The year-on-year growth rate in the volume of retail sales increased by 2.9% when compared with December 2019; non-store retailers reported the largest year-on-year growth at 43.5% while food stores also saw strong annual growth of 4.4%.

  • In 2020 as a whole, estimates of the quantity bought decreased by 1.9% when compared with 2019, the largest year-on-year fall on record.

  • Clothing stores (negative 25.1%), fuel stores (negative 22.2%), "other stores" (negative 11.6%) and department stores (negative 5.2%) all recorded record annual declines in sales volumes in 2020 when compared with 2019, non-store retailing, however, saw a record annual increase of 32.0% for 2020.

  • Total online retailing values increased by 46.1% in 2020 when compared with 2019, the highest annual growth reported since 2008.

  • Food stores (79.3%), "other stores" (73.9%), household goods stores (73.4%) and department stores (65.9%) all recorded record annual increases in values of internet sales in 2020 when compared with 2019.

BRC Commentary

Responding to the latest ONS Retail Sales Index figures, which showed an 0.3% decrease in overall sales (non-seasonally adjusted retail sales excluding fuel: J3L2), Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

“There was no Christmas cheer for retail as the industry found itself in the firing line for last minute coronavirus restrictions. Non-food stores continued to suffer the brunt of these restrictions, with large non-food stores once again seeing double digit declines. Sales of clothing and footwear both failed to see a much-needed uptick in sales after months of losses. Last minute Christmas restrictions deprived shops of much needed sales, and even food sales growth slowed significantly.

“With no end in sight for retailers closed in lockdown, many will struggle to survive under a mounting rent burden, and a return to full business rates in April. The Government should urgently announce an extension to the moratorium on aggressive debt enforcement and offer targeted business rates relief to the worst-affected businesses. Decisive action is needed to save jobs, shops and local communities, with town and city centres looking to be particularly hard hit unless the Government acts now.” 

PwC Commentary:

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said:

"In a month where non-essential shops and the high street hospitality industry experienced revolving doors of lockdown, changing tiers, Christmas and finally another lockdown, flat headline retail sales vs. November seems almost a miracle.

“In fact, compared with last December, retail sales growth of +5.5% (excluding fuel) appears to confirm the resilience of the sector and of consumers’ appetite for shopping in the face of the pandemic. This growth was aided by a more than doubling of online sales in categories such as groceries, where supermarkets have proven how quickly they are able to add capacity to serve a nation unable to celebrate in restaurants and pubs.

“However, the overall performance belies a number of important issues, with some sectors faring far worse than others. With less demand for seasonal partywear following the cancellation of Christmas parties and large family gatherings, fashion continued its annus horribilis, with sales volumes still almost 20% below pre-pandemic levels. And across the whole of retail, the sector has experienced its first annual volume decline since 2011, underlining the extent of the impact of the pandemic on consumer demand.

“As we enter the new year, what gives us confidence is seeing how quickly the sector bounced back following the reopening of non-essential retail after lockdowns 1 and 2 in June and early December. There’s little doubt that consumers are ready and willing to support the high street once able. Non-essential stores will be hoping current restrictions are lifted quickly as we head into spring. While e-commerce has shown that it can replace some of the volume lost during the pandemic, for many purchases nothing can replace the personal experience of visiting a physical store.”

Source : ONS, BRC and PwC

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22 January 2021

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