Mar 8, 2021
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Online sales reached record high last month, helped by fashion

Mar 8, 2021

UK retail sales fell again on a like-for-like basis last month, but there was good news on fashion for once as its sales fall was small and it helped drive online like-for-likes to a record high.

Online shopping provided a big boost for UK retail in February

Overall, the February figures for the wider retail sector were the second-worst since last August and the third consecutive negative result, according to accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP. 

Its High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) showed a 3.1% drop compared to a 0.5% dip in February 2020. Meanwhile, online sales powered ahead by 167.3%, beating the prior month’s record for the HSST. They’d risen only 6% this time last year and the latest surge followed a record-breaking 132.8% rise in January.

Online sales really did prop-up total like-for-like sales as in-store revenues continued to languish. And surging online fashion sales helped the fashion sector’s overall result for the month to a fall of only 3.6% (BDO didn't specify the percentage rise for fashion online). The category had been up 0.4% a year ago, which means the February figure is encouraging with the gap between February 2020 and February 2021 being relatively narrow. 

While fashion was down for the 12th straight month, February’s result was the best performance during that run having recorded two weeks of actual growth in the middle of the month.

This could have come on the back of the much-talked-about lockdown fatigue that has been seen, as well as consumer preparing for spring and for lockdowns being eased.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “As we mark a year of Covid’s impact on retail and the wider economy, we’ve seen total retail sales decline by around 8% on average each month.

“Obviously, there is still a long road ahead but with shops looking at reopening there were a few positive signs this month. Consumer confidence improved slightly, probably thanks to the vaccine rollout, and the fashion sector had its best result in months as shoppers eyed the end of lockdown.

“Retailers will have welcomed a number of this week’s Budget measures, notably the announcement of further business rates relief, restart grants and loans and the extension to the furlough scheme. A key part of driving forward the UK’s economic recovery is likely to come from unlocking consumer spending. To enable this, the retail sector needs to reopen successfully and quickly and the government’s continued support will be vital to making this happen.”

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