The UK Retail Report: Covid-19 Impact

posted by 3 years ago in Covid-19

The world is seeing a new way of living. We are all staying indoors, isolated and learning to adapt to new routines. While many areas of ‘normal’ living have majorly shifted, one has seen a hugely dramatic change – retail. Using March data from ONS, we have delved into the data to reveal the true impacts over the last couple of months.

Overall, there’s a strong rate of decline in the retail world, with monthly rates falling by 5.7%. Due to official government guidance, many stores had to shut up shop, which may be the reason for the 5.1% fall in volume.

March 2020 Retail Sales 

% Compared to March 2019 Compared to February 2020
 Amount Spent -6% -5.7%
 Items Bought -5.8% -5.1%
 Amount Spent (excluding fuel) -3.9% -3.8%
 Items Bought (excluding fuel) -4.1% -3.7%

When looking at Retail Sales in March 2020 compared to a year earlier, we can see that the volume of retail sales has decreased by -5.8% as well as the volume of retail sales, with a -6% decrease, with similar decreases compared to the previous month of February, with the closure of shops due to the coronavirus pandemic having a clear impact.

While retail sales had been steadily growing up until June 2019, they were already starting to fall even before the pandemic struck, with a sharp fall between February and March of this year.

Retail Sales & Growth

Retail Sales by Sector

March has impacted certain sectors differently to others, with some ‘essential’ stores still being allowed to trade. This can be seen in a significant decline in the volume and value of sold goods in non-food stores, while sales in food stores and non-store retailing have seen an increase. Sales of fuel have also dropped, with travel restrictions meaning that people are using their cars far less.

With many stores temporarily closed, buyers are looking elsewhere for essentials, and demand for certain products have risen. When we look at goods sold in food stores, department stores and non-store retailing, we can see the dramatic changes in comparison to 2019.

Monthly growth rate for the value of goods sold by commodity in Britain

Food Sales

Food is, of course, an essential, and whilst we have been in lockdown, it is clear that not only has the value of food increased but so has the volume and average store price. Since 2017 there has been a steady incline which could be attributed to inflation, however, there is a sudden peak in March – mostly for value and volume.

Year on Year Food Store Sales

With food stores being the main essential store still open, it seems many shoppers are making the most of their shopping trips. Value and volume have both seen a big month-on-month growth rate, with alcohol sales seeing huge growth in sales of 31.4%.

Growth in the Value and Volume of Sales in Food Stores

A large number of food store owners have said that coronavirus has had an impact on their sales, particularly through people stockpiling and panic buying, with many supermarkets also benefiting from the closure of smaller food shops.

Non Food Stores

Coronavirus has affected everything from sales of toilet roll to streaming subscriptions, with most non-essential stores closing their doors on March 23rd. When it comes to non-food stores, Covid-19 has been reported as the main reason for change in turnover, as well as panic buying and closures.

Reasons for changes in turnover for non-food stores

Department stores Clothing stores Household goods stores Other non-food stores
 Covid-19 /   Coronavirus 41 160 98 668
 Panic buying /   Stockpiling <10 <10 <10 31
 Closures 34 130 119 413

Looking at month on month growth in non-food stores, the majority have seen a decline in the value and volume of sales, apart from department stores, many of which still offer delivery options and online sales. Clothing stores have taken the biggest hit, with a drop of more than a third in both value and volume of sales.

Growth in the Value and Volume of Sales in Non-Food Stores (February to March)

Month-on-month growth rate (%)
 Store type Value Volume
 Department stores 2.2 2.8
 Textiles, Clothing and Footwear -35.5 -34.8
 Household Goods -8.9 -8
 Other non-food -26.5 -26
 Total -20 -19.4

Online Sales

Online sales; consumers are using this as a way to receive everything from yoga mats to their weekly food shop. Online sales have been steadily growing for some time, though the arrival of coronavirus has brought a huge spike, even in comparison to the run-up to Christmas.

Looking at how online sales have changed compared to last year, household goods have seen a yearly growth of 51.8% and household goods have seen a 30% increase since last year. However, textiles have seen an online sales hit, decreasing by -4.4% overall and a -16.1% month on month.

Online Sales, March 2020

Category Year-on-year growth (%) Month-on-month growth (%) Online sales as a proportion of retailing (%)
 All retailing 12.5 8.3 22.3
 All food 19.7 17.9 5.7
 All non-food 16.8 10.8 21.8
 Department stores 33.7 47.4 23.7
 Textile, clothing and footwear stores -4.4 -16.1 26.6
 Household goods stores 51.8 36.9 21.6
 Other stores 6.4 2.4 16.6
 Non-store retailing 8 4.5 82.4

Many stores have introduced online deliveries while they’re temporarily closed due to the pandemic, with department stores, in particular, seeing a strong increase of 47.4% this March, compared to just 0.1% twelve months previously, with many ordering office furniture to allow them to work from home or appliances such as freezers for stockpiling food. Supermarkets also saw a significant increase in online orders, while clothes stores were the only sector to see a decrease in online sales.

March, Total Online Sales, 2017 to 2020 (index 2016=100)

Total online sales
 March 2017 110.5
 March 2018 128.4
 March 2019 146.4
 March 2020 160.9


Fuel is a much-needed essential; key workers need to commute, we need to travel to supermarkets, and elderly or vulnerable people need assistance from family and friends. Both the value and volume of fuel sales have sharply fallen overall, due to imposed travel restrictions. Fuel prices can be very volatile, and had seen a rise in January 2020, steadily dropping in the months since, before a sharp fall in March, taking the average price of fuel to an all-time low over the last year.

Month on Month Fuel Sales, 2017 to 2020 (Index 2016 = 100)

Value Volume Average store price
 March 2017 105.8 94.7 109.2
 March 2018 108.1 96.5 109.8
 March 2019 125.6 108.7 112.9
 March 2020 95.5 85.1 110.6