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Jan 8, 2021
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UK fashion retail sales struggled in December, online also faltered

Published
Jan 8, 2021

December may have been all about on-off lockdowns or semi-lockdowns in the UK but a key sales tracker on Friday showed that online sales didn’t do as well as they might have done in those circumstances.


UK retail sales faltered in December 2020 - Image: Public domain



BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) said online sales faltered and recording their weakest result since March. 

Not that they were a disaster, of course. Total non-store like-for-like sales increased by 62% in December from a base of +24.5% last year. But a lower-than-expected result is a sign of the fragility of the UK retail sector.

And online wasn’t the only issue as overall sales (with physical stores and e-stores combined) disappointed in December. Retailers saw their first negative like-for-like monthly sales since records began at -1.6%. That said, they’d risen 6.6% a year ago so December 2020 were still up compared to the same month in 2018.

It all meant that 2020 ended with nine non-consecutive months of negative results out of 12, underlining just how devastating the year was for the retail sector.

December may have been tough sector-wide, but it was even worse for fashion. As homewares soared almost 30% on a like-for-like basis, fashion fell 6.2%. That marked an even deeper contraction than it appeared on the surface as last year, fashion had risen only 4.5%. That means the December 2020 fall put the figures back below the 2018 result.

Fashion actually saw 10 consecutive negative like-for-like sales results last year, despite recording two positive weeks to start last month.

Looking at the wider result by week, the start of the month was promising, “but positive signs were swiftly scuppered by mid-month Covid restrictions and lockdowns”. 

Total like-for-like sales increased by 11.22% in the first week of December from a strong base of 22.4% for the same week last year (with both weeks including Cyber Monday). 

The second week of the month saw total like-for-like sales improving as well, by 6.42% from a flat base (+0.28%) last year. But with rising Covid cases and further restrictions announced, total like-for-like sales then dropped 11.15% in week three from a base of -0.37% for the same week last year. The last week of December, which saw the expansion of a more restrictive tier system across England, saw total like-for-like sales plummeting 23.18%, but from a base of +6.61% for the same week last year.

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