COVID-19: retail sales plunge as high streets remain empty

Retail sales in the UK took a hit in March as measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 were introduced by the British government.

UK Head of Retail at KPMG, Paul Martin, said that the illness has changed the consumer landscape “significantly”.

Data from the British Retail Consortium revealed that, on a total basis, sales decreased by 4.3% in March, compared to a decrease of 1.8% in March 2019.

In the last two weeks of the period, sales crashed by 27%.

The British government introduced stricter lockdown rules at the end of March in order to help stop the illness from spreading.

People have been encouraged to stay at home and practice social distancing, with all non-essential shops being made to close.

“Lockdown has prompted a fundamental rethink of what is deemed essential,” Paul Martin continued.

“The UK’s closure of non-essential stores only started at the backend of the month, so it’s likely worse data is yet to emerge,” Paul Martin said.

Many have been hit financially by the economic implications of the illness.

Paul Martin added that staying at home has seen a rise in sales of food and drink, computing equipment, children’s toys and health-related goods.

“Yet our high streets are completely void of footfall, and non-food categories like fashion have been forced into hibernation,” Paul Martin said.

The Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson OBE, described the March data as “the worst decline in retail sales on record”.

Helen Dickinson OBE said: “The crisis continues; the retail industry is at the epicentre and the tremors will be felt for a long while yet. Many physical non-food retailers have been forced to shut down entirely or to limit themselves to online only to protect customers and staff. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of jobs at are risk within these companies and their supply chains.”

“At the same time, supermarkets brace themselves for lower sales, while still spending huge sums on protective measures, donating to food banks and hiring tens of thousands of temporary staff. We welcome the Government’s actions to date, yet millions of livelihoods rely on their continued support.”

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