Jun 19, 2020
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UK's May retail sees partial rebound, e-sales rise keeps fashion ticking over

Jun 19, 2020

UK retail sales “partly rebounded in May”, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday. They rose 12% by volume and 11.8% by value compared to the record falls seen in the previous month, but they were still down 13.1% compared to February, the last month in which retail could have been said to be ‘normal’.

Clothes shops may have been closed but fashion retailers got a boost from online sales last month - DR

On the plus side too, non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in May, although this was mainly aided by a strong increase of 42% in household goods stores.

It’s no surprise that the proportion spent online soared to the highest on record at 33.4%, which even beat the 30.8% reported in April.

But while comparing May’s sales to April’s makes them look good, comparing them with the year-ago figures still shows major drops. Sales by value were down 14.2% year-on-year and by volume they fell 13.1%. That said, if you exclude fuel purchases, they were ‘only’ down 9.7% by value and 9.8% by volume.

So is there any comfort to be taken from these figures? Perhaps. Given that all non-essential stores were closed and even parts of some essential stores were shut off, the falls weren’t as big as might have been expected.

And the online sector clearly took up more of the slack during the entire lockdown period than many might have thought. The ONS said the volume of non-store retailing sales (which mainly means online) increased by 24.3% from March to May and by 21% for May alone (when compared with April). And non-food stores accounted for the biggest leaps. 

Textile, clothing and footwear webstores saw a 25.2% increase in their value sales in May compared to April. They’d seen record declines in April due to many of them taking their e-stores offline as they grappled with social distancing issues at their distribution hubs.

The figures clearly leave a lot to be desired but do show some improvements.

Lee Lucas, Principal and CEO of the Fashion Retail Academy saw reasons to be cheerful. “It has been a long and challenging few months for high street retailers, but it's encouraging to see that today’s figures show a healthy rebound from last month’s record drop in retail sales,” he said.

"Clothing [web]stores were one of the biggest winners of May's rebound and as a result, non-food stores provided the largest contribution to overall growth in May. [And] the queues we saw on high streets this week show that many shoppers have missed the in-store experience, and were keen to enjoy some retail therapy after months stuck at home. 

“With shoppers demonstrating they are willing to return to physical stores, retailers need to make the most out of this situation and ensure this momentum continues. Proactive engagement with customers via digital channels about in-store offers and discounts, along with demonstrations of how they are enabling social distancing and keeping staff and shoppers safe, will be critical to encouraging return visits.”

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