UK retailers reported their steepest sales decline in March since records began – but alcohol retail sales bucked the trend with a 31.4% volume surge, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
UK retail store sales fell a record 5.1% in March – the biggest decline since the ONS started gathering data in 1996 – as shops were forced to shut due to the covid-19 lockdown.
However, alcohol store sales saw significant double-digit growth, outperforming supermarket store volume sales, which rose 10.3%.
By value, alcohol store sales rose 32.6%, while supermarkets witnessed a 10.2% increase.
For alcohol stores, only 0.7 pence out of every pound is typically spent in these stores, according to ONS data, with many consumers choosing to buy their alcohol in supermarkets.
Rhian Murphy, head of retail sales index at the ONS, said: “Retail sales saw their biggest monthly fall since records began over 30 years ago with large declines in clothing and fuel, only partially offset by strong food sales. Online-only retailers saw strong growth though, with many high street stores also unsurprisingly seeing a boost to web sales.”
Karen Johnson, managing director, national head of retail, wholesale and healthcare, Barclays Corporate Banking, also commented on the “sharp drop” in retail sales in March.
She said: “March was a watershed month for UK retail. As the lockdown came into full effect and many high street businesses closed their doors to customers, sales were down across the board – with the second half of March showing a particularly sharp drop.
“Although the headline figures were expected, there have been some glimmers of hope amongst the shutdown, with spend on food and drink a notable (if not unexpected) area of success.
“Whilst most ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers have seen walk-in demand disappear, early indications are that online spending has also performed better than predicted – showing that consumer spend has not closed down entirely.”
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