Coronavirus: Retail sales fall by record 18.1% in April as shutdown takes hold

The volume of retail sales in April fell by a record 18.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It follows the 5.2% fall in March, which was a record at the time and came as many UK retail businesses were forced to shut down due to government measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Among the sectors to suffer was clothing, where sales plummeted by 50.2% in April compared with March, which itself had seen a 34.9% fall.

The volume of goods sold by household stores fell 45.4%, on the back of an 8.7% drop from February to March.

The only bright spots for retailers were a record increase in non-store retailing of 18% and an increase in sales for alcohol stores of 2.3%.

Almost all store types saw record online spending in April, the ONS said, as many retailers shifted to online-only trading.

Jeremy Thomson Cook, chief economist at Equals, said:Today’s UK retail sales figures show the nature of consumer facing businesses through the COVID-19 crisis; you have to be online and food or booze related or your sales have been crippled.

“Coronavirus has put the High St in stasis and the reopening of shopping centres and areas will take a huge amount of time and planning with no guarantee of a full recovery.

“Online fulfilment will remain crucial given shoppers may have the ability to return to shops soon but the desire to physically turn up will likely be lacking.”

It comes as British luxury fashion house Burberry published its full-year results, reporting a 27% drop in comparable sales in the final quarter of its year.

The brand said around 60% of its retail stores are closed and the uncertain outlook has prompted it to pull its final dividend.

Burberry started to feel the pain as early as January, when the coronavirus pandemic hit China, one of its most important markets.

As the virus spread to Europe and North America, it saw significant losses in those regions too.

Chief Executive Marco Gobbetti said that before the virus, Burberry had been making strong progress, with sales growing ahead of expectations.

He added: “Since then, the global health emergency has had a profound impact on the world, our industry, and Burberry but I am very proud of the way we have responded.

“It will take time to heal but we are encouraged by our strong rebound in some parts of Asia and are well-prepared to navigate through this period.”

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