Retail sales in 2020 see biggest fall since records began

Retail sales in 2020 see biggest fall since records began

British retail sales saw their largest annual fall in history last year as the impact of the pandemic took its toll.

Sales fell by 1.9% in 2020, when compared with 2019, the largest year-on-year fall since records began in 1997, official figures show.

Clothes shops were hit hard, with a record annual fall of more than 25%.

The drop came despite a slight pick-up in December, as a brief easing of some lockdown measures meant more stores were able to open.

Retail sales, including fuel, increased by 0.3% last month when compared with November.

The small increase came despite the end of England’s national lockdown on 2 December. Sales had slumped by 2.6% in November during a month-long shutdown.

“During December, there was initially a period of eased restrictions early in the month, however, there followed a number of tighter restrictions to non-essential retail in England, Scotland and Wales later in the month,” the ONS said.

“Feedback from retailers suggested that these enforced closures later in the month affected turnover, though not to the same extent as witnessed in November.”

And while clothing retailers were particularly hard-hit in 2020, they saw the largest monthly growth in December at 21.5%.

ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow also said that some sectors had been “able to buck the trend” last year.

“The increased popularity of click-and-collect and people buying more items from home led to a strong year for overall internet sales, with record highs for food and household goods sales online.”

In a sign of the way the pandemic has changed shopping habits, the value of online retail sales jumped by 46.1% in 2020 when compared with 2019 – the highest annual growth reported since 2008.

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, explained that the rise of online had “polarised industry performance”.

“The gap widened between those retailers with the most sophisticated online propositions from those with legacy store-dependent business models,” he said.

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