COVID-19: Help for high streets as retail sales surge after lockdown hit

Retailers have enjoyed a surge in sales as stores dubbed non-essential were able to emerge from an enforced winter hibernation during April.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed volumes rose 9.2% last month from March after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted from 12 April in England and Wales and two weeks later in Scotland, unleashing pent-up demand following months of closures.

The growth was way better than economists had expected and marked the start of a recovery for a sector that has felt some of the deepest employment pain during the crisis to date with the likes of Sir Philip Green’s Topshop empire and Debenhams being erased from town centres.

The fightback was led by fashion and other non-food stores.

The ONS charted a leap of almost 70% in clothing sales on a monthly basis, supporting corporate updates from the likes of Primark and Superdry that they enjoyed record levels of sales as tills sprung back to life – eating away at online players who have enjoyed something of a monopoly this year.

The number-crunchers said the performance left sales volumes 42.4% higher on a year earlier – a figure hugely distorted by the fact April 2020 was a time when business for many physical stores was stopped in its tracks through the first UK-wide lockdown.

ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said: “Clothing sales soared by nearly three quarters as consumers took advantage of being able to visit physical stores.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, overall online sales dipped, but still remain high.”

The ONS said it left retail sales 10.6% above their pre-crisis level.

The figures build on evidence the economic recovery, from the worst annual performance in more than 300 years, has been accelerating since March.

It has been aided by richer households being able to build up savings throughout the crisis though high street stores will be competing with restaurants, pubs and holiday firms for a share of this bounty.

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