Deloitte comments on ONS retail sales

In this press release references to “Deloitte” are references to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”) a UK private company limited by guarantee, and its network of member firms, each of which is a legally separate and independent entity.

Commenting on today’s ONS retail sales figures, Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said: “Retail sales continued to struggle in May, despite both values and volumes rising by 11.8% and 12% compared to April. In a month that saw two bank holiday weekends, some easing of outdoor social gatherings, and warmer weather for many, retailers may have been looking for the first green shoots of recovery to make up for lost ground in March and April.

“Overall food sales values were flat, at +0.3% month-on-month, but, whilst grocers may have hoped for stronger food sales in what is traditionally the start of barbecue season, online grocery sales remain strong, up by 21.1% compared to April and now accounting for 11.3% of all food sales. More encouragingly, non-food sales are up month-on-month in both value (+24.2%) and volume (+23.7%) for the first time since lockdown, which, for some, will mark the early signs of ‘normality’ for this time of year. However, 41.5% of non-food sales occurred online in May, up from 15.8% in February 2020 before lockdown.

“A wider disparity between online and in-store sales remains this month in spite of garden centre and hardware store re-openings. Total online sales stood at 33.4% this month, beating April’s record sales, though this is unlikely to have offset sales usually seen in-store over this period. In addition to household goods, purchases have also likely been driven by beauty products and, more notably, clothing items as many consumers continue to work from home, with an increased requirement for video conferencing and a more relaxed ‘work’ wardrobe.

“Looking ahead, as non-essential retailers begin to phase-in store reopening plans, some consumer anxiety will remain. During lockdown, consumers have pivoted to fewer but bigger food shops. Whether this trend will also translate into non-food remains to be seen. For retailers, there are two options: a difficult balancing act to between re-creating a familiar shopping experience whilst implementing and maintaining strict new hygiene practices, or innovating and re-inventing the shopping experience for a post-COVID-19 world. Deloitte data shows that 46% of UK consumers currently feel safe visiting a store, but building on this confidence will be key for drawing more shoppers back to the High Street over the coming months.”

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