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UK retail sales hit record low in 2020

By Huw Hughes

13 Jan 2021

UK retail sales hit a record 25-year low in 2020 during a year plagued by prolonged store closures.

For the whole year, total sales fell 0.3 percent compared with 2019, a record low since records began in 1995, according to the latest BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor.

That drop was driven by non-food items, as categories such as fashion were hit hard by multiple lockdowns enforced to curb the spread of Covid-19. Non-food sales fell by 5 percent over the year.

In-store sales of non-food items were hit particularly hard, declining 24 percent compared with 2019.

However, the non-food online penetration rate in 2020 was 46.1 percent, up from 31.1 percent in 2019.

Over the three-months to December, non-food retail sales increased by 5.1 percent on a like-for-like basis and declined 1.5 percent on a total basis. During that same period, in-store sales of non-food items declined 24.7 percent on a total and 14.4 percent on a like-for-like basis.

Helen Dickinson OBE, the chief executive of BRC, commented: “Covid has led to 2020 being the worst year on record for retail sales growth. Physical non-food stores – including all of ‘non-essential’ retail – saw sales drop by a quarter compared with 2019. Christmas offered little respite for these retailers, as many shops were forced to shut during the peak trading period.

“With shops still closed for the foreseeable future, costing stores billions in lost sales, many retailers are struggling to survive. To avoid the unnecessary loss of shops and jobs government should announce an extension to business rates relief for the worst-affected businesses as soon as possible. With many retailers making decisions over their future, the Government must act decisively.”

Photo credit: FashionUnited