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Jun 18, 2021
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UK fashion purchases dipped last month, but long-term trend remains good

Published
Jun 18, 2021

UK retail sales showed a surprise decline in May with volumes down 1.4% month-on-month after a sharp increase in April when retail restrictions were eased. As well as that volume drop, overall retail sales by value fell 0.8% compared to April. And according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics, fashion specifically declined too. 


Photo: Pexels/Public domain



Despite the retail-wide monthly decline, the two months combined saw average total retail sales volumes up 7.7% compared to March, and even 9.1% higher than in February 2020, the last month before the impact of the coronavirus was felt.

The biggest contributor to the decline was food sales as consumers started to eat out again once restrictions were lifted. Non-food stores, by contrast, enjoyed a 2.3% uplift.

Clothing and department stores recorded monthly volume declines of 2.5% and 6.7% respectively. However, both drops followed strong growth in previous months and the quarter-on-quarter growth to May 2021 “highlights the continued recovery in these sectors with growth of 28.9% and 12.6% respectively”.

The proportion of retail sales conducted online remains substantially higher than before the pandemic, but in May, all retail sectors, with the exception of food stores, reported a fall in their proportions of online sales as consumers returned to physical stores. The total proportion of sales online decreased to 28.5% in May, down from 29.8% in April. But in comparison with February 2020, the value of total online retail sales in May was 58.8% higher, whereas in-store sales were 1.3% lower.

Clothing looked strong online, compared to a year earlier when lockdown restrictions meant fashion was the last thing on people’s minds. Textiles, clothing and footwear e-stores saw growth of 46.6% year-on-year, although they were down 3.8% month-on-month. Department stores struggled on both measures with a 3% year-on-year drop and a 1.4% month-on-month decline.

Analyst Jacqui Baker, partner and head of retail at RSM, doesn’t think the month-on-month declines are too worrying though. “Online sales have trickled down slightly, but I don’t expect they will ever drop below pre-pandemic levels,” she said, underlining the fact that online shopping has been adopted by so many more consumers since the pandemic began.

And Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at Deloitte, added: “Some behaviours adopted during the pandemic are likely to stay, with the baseline for online as a total share of retail, whilst slowing in May, likely to remain substantially higher than before the pandemic. The value of online sales is currently outperforming even lockdown levels, demonstrating an entrenchment of some behaviours. This is especially true of clothes purchasing, as consumers switch to trying items on in the comfort of home.”

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