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2020 UK retail sales worst on record

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·3-min read
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Shoppers walk past closed shops in Lincoln city centre during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Under increased measures people can no longer leave their home without a reasonable excuse and schools must shut for most pupils. (Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images)
Shoppers walk past closed shops in Lincoln city centre during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Under increased measures people can no longer leave their home without a reasonable excuse and schools must shut for most pupils. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images

Total retail sales in 2020 declined 0.3% compared with 2019, reaching the lowest level since records began in 1995.

What’s more, the Christmas period was not enough to pull them out of the doldrums, according to December’s British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor.

Demand for food outstripped the rest of the market with food sales growth hitting a 5.4% increase, and non-food products declining 5.0% for the year.

On a total basis, sales increased by 1.8% in December, against a growth of 0.2% in December 2019. This is below the 3-month average growth of 2.5% and above the 12-month average decline of 0.3%.

For the purpose of this survey, the BRC counts 2020 as a 53-week year in the ONS calendar. It says that as a result of the extra week in January 2020, the comparable 2019 performances cited may differ from those published last year, due to the one-week shift in the comparison.

Watch: Disappeared - the UK high street names lost in 2020

Over the three months to December, in-store sales of non-food items declined 24.7% on a total and 14.4% on a like-for-like basis. For December, the like-for-like excluding temporarily closed stores remained in decline.

For 2020 overall, in-store sales of non-food items declined 24.0%, compared with 2019.

Helen Dickinson OBE, CEO of the BRC, said: “With shops still closed for the foreseeable future, costing stores billions in lost sales, many retailers are struggling to survive.

Dickinson called for an extension to business rates relief for the worst-affected businesses as soon as possible. “With many retailers making decisions over their future, the Government must act decisively,” she said.

READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccine minister voices concern on spread of virus in supermarkets

Over the three months to December, food sales increased 6.8% on a like-for-like basis and 7.3% on a total basis. This is higher than the 12-month Total average growth of 5.4%.

For the month of December, food was in growth year-on-year, another stat backing up the hypothesis that supermarkets were the major winners of the pandemic.

Conversely, over the three-months to December, non-food retail sales increased by 5.1% on a like-for-like basis and declined 1.5% on a total basis. This is above the 12-month total average decline of 5.0%.

As consumers shifted their Christmas shopping online, online non-food sales increased by 44.8% in December, against a growth of 6.7% in December 2019. This is above the three-month average of 43.8%.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “In the most important month for the retail industry, there was some positive growth due to the on-going shift of expenditure from other categories such as travel and leisure.

“Once again we saw big swings in the types of products being purchased and the channels used for shopping, with much of the growth taking place online where nearly half of all non-food purchases were made.”

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