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Online sales down in April compared to March as shoppers go in-store to buy – but still well ahead of the same time last year

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The latest retail sales figures suggest a strong return to stores. Image: Shutterstock
The latest retail sales figures suggest a strong return to stores. Image: Shutterstock
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Online sales down in April compared to March as shoppers go in-store to buy – but still well ahead of the same time last year

UK online sales fell across all retail categories in April, compared to the previous month, as customers started to return to shops post-lockdown, official figures suggest. But they grew overall – and in most categories – compared to the same time last year.

 

Overall, 30% of retail sales took place online in April, down from 34.7% the previous month, says the ONS Retail Sales report for April 2021. Online sales fell by 5.6% compared to March, and grew by 31.9% compared to last April. And across all channels, UK retail sales grew by 9% compared to the previous month – by 37% on the same time last year,

 

From April 12 onwards shops reopened in different markets of the UK, boosting both in-store sales and overall retail sales. The ONS report suggests that shoppers spent 9.1% more with UK retailers than they did in March on 9% more goods, excluding automotive fuel – and that they spent 37.9% more than they did in April last year on 37.7% more goods. Last April, however, retail sales fell sharply in the first national lockdown when the tightest restrictions were in place. The ONS says: “A more useful comparison is with February 2020, before the first lockdown. Total retail sales levels for both the amount spent and quantity bought were up 9.9% and 10.6% respectively compared with their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic February 2020 levels.”

 

How shoppers spent in-store

Spending across channels in non-food stores increased by 25.4% in April 2021 compared to March 2021 – suggesting shoppers went in-store to newly-opened non-essential shops to buy. Spending across sales channels grew strongly in the clothing, footwear and textiles category (+69.4%) compared to the previous month, but was 0.3% lower than in pre-pandemic February 2020. Spending on household goods grew by 10.2% in April compared to March, and by 19.7% in April compared to pre-pandemic February 2020. Department store sales rose by 4.7% in April compared to March and by 7.6% in compared to February 2020.

 

At the same time, spending in food stores was slightly down – and in-supermarket sales fell for goods from clothing (-9.4%) to household goods (-4%).

 

How shoppers spent online

The ONS report suggests that the pandemic has moved sales further online. Non-store retailing, a category dominated by pureplay retailers, this month reports online growth of 56% compared to pre-pandemic April 2019, as shoppers moved online to buy during Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions affecting retail.

 

Online sales fell by 5.6% compared to March, and grew by 31.9% compared to last April. Food ecommerce sales fell by 11.4% on last month – likely affected by the partial reopening of hospitality – but were 16.5% higher than a year ago. They accounted for 10.5% of retail sales in the category.

 

Non-food online sales fell by 9.8% on last month, and grew by 37.2% on the previous month, accounting for 28.2% of sales in the category. A quarter (25.5%) of department store sales were online – falling both compared to last month (-22.4%) and last year (-1.6%).

 

In the clothing, footwear and textile category, almost a third (30%) of sales took place online, 6.3% lower than last month and 83.6% higher than last year.

 

Some 30.8% of household goods sales were online, down by 7.1% on the previous month and up by 27.4% on last year, while 26.6% of sales at ‘other’ shops, from bookshops to jewellers and toy stores, were online last month - following a 5.9% decline on March and a 47.4% growth compared to last year. Some 81.9% of sales in the non-store retailing category that is dominated by pureplay retailers were online, with sales up by 0.3% on March, and up by 33.1% on April 2020.

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