Online retail sales hit a new record high in February – but couldn’t make up for another bad month for the stores as they remained closed during the lockdown.
The latest BDO High Street Sales Tracker found that combined like-for-like in-store and online sales in the UK fell 3.1% in February, the second worst month since last August.
However, strong online demand for fashion and housewares helped mitigate the blow as parts of the high street remained closed and internet sales rose a record 167.3%.
BDO also reported “some positive signs” for the ailing sector. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to reopen non-essential stores in England from April 12 on his roadmap.
The sector also welcomed this week’s budgetary measures, including further relief to corporate rates, restart of grants and loans, and the expansion of the vacation program.
Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO, said: “As we mark the impact of Covid on retail and the wider economy for a year, total retail sales have fallen an average of minus 8% each month.
“Obviously there is still a long way to go, but with stores reopening there have been some positive signs this month.”
She added: “A major part of the UK’s economic recovery should be unlocking consumer spending.
“To make this possible, retail must reopen successfully and quickly, and continued government support will be critical to that.”
The report noted a surge in consumer confidence, likely driven by the rapid Covid-19 vaccine, as fashion retailers achieved their best result in a year.
The tracker showed that fashion sales were down 3.6%. However, that was the smallest drop in a year of declining sales thanks to two-week growth in mid-February.
Housewares sales in store and online rose 32.2% as the strong trend continued as banned Britons had to spice up their homes during the pandemic.
Lifestyle sales, however, remained under pressure for the third straight month, with like-for-like sales declining 15.6% in February.