Furniture and men's clothing spur UK retail recovery as Britain's shops reopen

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3-min read
EMBARGOED TO 0001 TUESDAY FEBRUARY 9 File photo dated 05/11/19 of a person carrying shopping. Retail sales slid in January as the latest national lockdown hammered shops across the UK, according to new figures. Issue date: Tuesday February 9, 2021.
According to the BRC, the pandemic has continued to concentrate spend on home-centric categories such as food, computing and home appliances. Photo: PA News

Furniture and men's and children's clothing were among products that have spurred a revival in British retail, as consumers and shops look to the next stages of the government's reopening roadmap. 

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG monthly retail sales monitor, released on Tuesday, pandemic has continued to concentrate spend on home-centric categories such as food, computing and home appliances.

Others, such as fashion and beauty remain in double digit decline compared to pre-pandemic levels.

2020 was a turbulent year in which much of retail bounced between being open and closed, significantly impacting sales and the ability to make meaningful comparisons. In this context, all 2021 figures in this study are compared with 2019 (pre-pandemic). This means 2021 figures for the monitor are now year-on-two-years (Yo2Y), rather than year-on-year (YoY).

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Helen Dickinson OBE, CEO of the BRC, said: “As we pass the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, the retail industry has generally remained strong, despite numerous challenges. 2020 was a year like no other, with panic buying followed by a sharp decline in consumer spend, and then the first national lockdown which resulted in erratic retail sales.

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"This makes a direct comparison challenging, so for a truer indication of where the industry stands, we changed our year-on-year comparisons for a two-year, pre-pandemic comparison period."

Chart: BRC-KPMG
Chart: BRC-KPMG

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG said: “Last month saw historic growth rates in online sales, with some categories like Men’s and Children’s clothing and Furniture reaching triple digits.

"This is testament to how retailers, many of which have spent much of the last year with their doors closed, have embraced trading through lockdown via digital platforms.

“As we enter the next stage of the Government’s roadmap to recovery this month, high streets across the country will be hoping that pent up demand from consumers will be released and cash registers will start to ring again.”

March 2021 saw an 8.3% increase in spending compared to March 2019, which was largely driven by grocery spending. 

However, the majority of categories remain in decline, and fashion and footwear remain the hardest hit. Meanwhile, with many stores still closed, online purchases reached the highest on record, particularly for TVs, gaming consoles and laptops.

READ MORE: Small business confidence rebounds as shops reopen in England and Wales

UK retail sales increased 8.4% on a Like-for-like basis from March 2019, when they had decreased 1.1% from the preceding year.

Over the three months to March on a two-year basis, in-store sales of non-food items declined 44.4% on a total and 44.0% on a like-for-like basis. This is worse than the 2019 Total average decline of 3.1%. For March, the two-year like-for-like excluding temporarily closed stores remained in decline.

Over the three months to March over two years, food sales increased 14.7% on a Like-for-like basis and 11.6% on a total basis. This is higher than the 2019 Total average growth of 1.4%. For the month of March, Food was in growth year-on-year.

Online food sales got another bump, increasing by 94% on a two-year basis, against a growth of 3.0% in March 2019

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