Results from July’s ONS retail sales figures show the first full month of trade since non-essential stores in England were permitted to reopen by Government. Encouragingly there was growth for the second consecutive month at 3 per cent above pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.
Jacqui Baker, director of retail at RSM, said: ‘July’s results are positive news for the sector but show shopper habits formed during lockdown have become well entrenched. Even as lockdown measures were eased and restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes reopened, a familiar pattern has emerged where food sales continue to show growth at 2.4 percent on February 2020.
‘The fashion industry has been one of the worst hit by the crisis with sales still down by 25.7 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, even with a July 2020 monthly increase of 11.9 per cent. With many consumers avoiding beach holidays abroad and unemployment numbers increasing, many are opting to remain cautious by staycationing at home or at the great British seaside. Investment in a new summer wardrobe and swimwear has been almost non-existent.
‘Online retail sales continue to dominate and grew year on year by 52.9 per cent. The continued buoyant performance of online begs the question: has the pandemic converted a demographic of shoppers who would never have previously purchased online? Baby boomers whilst happy to browse online have historically preferred the personal engagement of traditional bricks and mortar stores. Yet left with no option during lockdown and with a greater amount of disposable income, its these shoppers who are sticking with their newfound habits and influencing the change in sales split.
‘Business interruption support from Government has been critical in saving the UK retail sector. Nevertheless, July’s results lay bare the challenges that remain as we approach the final golden quarter. Key support including the rent moratorium and furlough scheme end in the autumn presenting a watershed moment. Urgent consideration should be given by Government to extend the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act. The end of the Act brings the spectre of directors becoming personally liable for debts if they are found to be trading whilst insolvent from October 1. An extension would give retailers more time to restructure their finances as sales continue to recover.'