UK retail sales soar to pre-pandemic levels in July

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UK retail sales soared to pre-pandemic levels in July as non-essential shops opened for the first-time since lockdown.

Volumes increased by 3.6 per cent when compared with June, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released today (August 21). Levels were also 3.0 per cent higher than in February.

However, despite an overall uptick in the sector, the data shows contrasting results between different types of retailer.

Despite a fall of 3.1 per cent in July for food stores, supermarkets and food shops saw year-on-year sales growth as did online retailers, which saw sales up 50.4 per cent on pre- Covid levels.

But non-food and fuel sales remain below pre-pandemic levels, according to the ONS. In July, fuel sales continued to recover from low sales levels but were still 11.7 per cent lower than in February.

Clothing store sales were the worst hit during the pandemic and volume sales in July remained 25.7 per cent lower than February – even with a monthly increase of 11.9 per cent in July.

The news comes as swathes of big-name retailers continue to makes cuts to their workforce in what has been a difficult year for the industry.

Just this week M&S announced it was axing 7,000 roles, while last week Debenhams confirmed 2,500 jobs were to be cut across its stores and warehouses.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The latest ONS sales results mask a crisis under way in some parts of the retail industry.

“While food and online have shown growth, the hustle and bustle of shoppers and workers has yet to return to major town and city centres, continuing to impact sales significantly in those locations.”

She added: “The survival of many retail businesses hangs in the balance.”

Alistair McQueen of insurance business Aviva said: “This uptick in retail consumption may help ease concerns over the fragility of the UK economy – but not for long.

“The scale of the impact lockdown has had on economic activity levels has been revealed by the latest GDP figures. Fears over an imminent jump in unemployment were intensified by the ONS’ most recent labour market overview.

“Attempts to increase footfall to UK high streets – including the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and VAT cuts – have been successful.

“However, a rapid recovery still seems a long way off. Now, we must work together to support households under the most severe financial strain.”


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