Retail sales volumes in May and June reach pre-Covid pandemic heights, ONS reports

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The two monthly increases in the volume of retail sales in May and June 2020 have brought total sales to a similar level as before the coronavirus pandemic, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal.

However, there is a mixed picture in different store types. In June, while non-food stores and fuel sales show strong monthly growths in the volume of sales at 45.5% and 21.5% respectively, levels have still not recovered from the sharp falls experienced in March and April.

But food stores and non-store retailing both reached new high levels since the start of the pandemic, with volume food sales 5.3% higher, and non-store retailing 53.6% higher, than February.

In the three months to June, the volume of sales decreased by 9.5% when compared with the previous three months, with declines across all store types except food stores and non-store retailing.

The proportion of online spending reduced to 31.8% in June when compared with the record 33.3% reported in May, but is a considerable increase from the 20.0% reported in February.

Lynda Petherick, head of retail for Accenture UK and Ireland, said: “June marked another important step on the long road to recovery for the retail sector. As the government takes steps to stimulate the economy and lift consumer sentiment, we’re seeing a welcome boost for physical store sales, although the picture remains mixed. At the same time, online sales remain well above pre-pandemic levels, meaning it’s the brands which have worked on their e-commerce offer these last few months that will emerge stronger as lockdown lifts.

“There are lessons to be learned for those who have been slower to adapt to new ways of buying and we’re seeing a number of retailers open up about the need to restructure traditional business models to suit changing consumer habits. Brands must be prepared to act quickly and purposefully to adapt to this new retail environment, at a time where consumer confidence is showing early signs of being on the mend.”

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said: “Retail sales showed a rebound in June with sales values and volumes up, respectively, by 13.6% and 13.9% month-on-month. Whilst total value sales, including fuel, remain below year-on-year comparables, consumers appear to be emerging from lockdown slowly but cautiously, as volume sales returned to pre-lockdown levels.

“Deloitte data, collected as non-essential stores reopened, found that 46% of UK consumers felt safe visiting a store. This reflection in June’s figures signals a much-needed, albeit careful, step in the right direction for retailers. Non-essential stores in particular will be taking stock of their first few weeks of post-lockdown trade. As restrictions have eased on the High Street, some in-store footfall is likely to have been prompted by a rush to buy from those retailers that couldn’t be accessed online during lockdown. For some consumers, the opportunity to go shopping was simply ‘something to do’ as leisure venues remained closed over this period. Nevertheless, non-food sales have surged as a result, up 45.5% in volume from May, with clothing demonstrating continued growth again this month.

“As the hospitality sector reopens in the months ahead, and more consumers are enticed out, secondary footfall could boost numbers on the High Street, still. Likewise, with holidays back on the cards for many, demand for summer collections may just arrive in time for the new season.

“Online food sales also remained strong in June, accounting for 11.3% of total sales. This is at the same level as last month, indicating that many consumers continued to do their grocery shopping in this way.

“For both food and non-food sectors, the challenge will be maintaining the pace of returning consumers. Online sales as a proportion of overall sales remained high in June, at 31.8%. With consumers having experienced the convenience of online shopping during lockdown, some retailers will be focussing once more on their in-store experience in the ‘new normal’.”