Clothing sales in the UK plummeted by -50.2 per cent last month, confirms the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The sharp decline follows the government-enforced closure of non-essential shops on Monday 23 March, amid the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
Overall retail sales in Britain fell by a record -18.1 per cent in April. The steep dip follows a -5.2 per cent drop in March, when the lockdown measures were first introduced.
Online shopping as a proportion of all retail reached a record high of +30.7 per cent.
“Light at the end of the tunnel”
While the ONS figures are sobering for struggling bricks-and-mortar retailers, the Fashion Retail Academy‘s Lee Lucas says clothing sales could recover: “High street retailers have never previously experienced a fall so dramatic, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel with the government’s announcement that non-essential retail stores can provisionally start to re-open in June.
“With summer holidays abroad not going ahead, fashion retailers could be the unexpected winners from the biggest staycation the UK has ever seen.
“After months of lockdown, customers will be relishing the chance to enjoy familiar activities again. And that will include putting a bit of retail therapy back in their lives.”
Time to prepare
Fashion retailers are urged to prepare to re-open their doors with a focus on social distancing measures. This includes installing screens, increasing sanitisation practices and minimising the number of customers inside the shop at one time.
“Retailers now have a target to focus on,” adds Lucas. “And, more importantly, time to alter working practices to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“Retailers who are proactive in advertising the ways they’ll be keeping staff and customers safe will reap the benefits when people can finally re-enter stores.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has called for “further clarity” from the government on its plans to allow shops to re-open. Chief executive Helen Dickinson says it shares the view of the Prime Minister that “safety counts” and would like to see more details released for business owners. “Retailers around the country are already working on plans for re-opening safely with all necessary social distancing measures in place,” she says. “The BRC and Usdaw have supported this process with our own social distancing guidance, learning from the experiences of essential retailers. It’s vital that re-openings are based on who can do so safely, as opposed to size or type of shop.
“We need a plan for shopping as well as shops. This means a plan that allows safe navigation both to and through our retail centres. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the government to support this process.”