UK retail sales rose 7.3% in April, boosted by strong demand after non-essential stores reopened, industry figures showed.
The rate of growth from April 2019 was above the three-month average of 6% as pent-up demand and increased confidence enticed shoppers back to stores after more than three months of lockdown, the British Retail Consortium said.
Non-food sales rose by a quarter on a like-for-like basis in the three months to April and by 46% in the month of April from two years earlier, when figures were unaffected by Covid-19. In the three weeks after stores reopened on 12 April, non-food sales rose 25% from March, when shops were closed.
Online non-food sales rose 57% in April compared with a 4.3% gain in April 2019 but the rate of growth was less than the three month average of 83% that resulted from lockdown.
The BRC said the figures were good news but warned the industry was still fragile with 530,000 retail employees still on furlough and government support on business rates due to come to an end. Many stores were forced to close during the pandemic and economic uncertainty and high costs mean the sector remains under threat.
Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said: With the short-term pent-up demand for the shopping experience drawing consumers back to stores, non-food sales across stores. It is great to see customers feeling confident visiting shops, a testament to the ongoing investment by retailers in making their stores, warehouses, and deliveries Covid-secure.
“However, this sales growth is fragile. There is little competition for share of spending while parts of hospitality, leisure, and tourism remain restricted and inner cities and town centres continue to perform poorly as many people continue to work from home.”
Furniture was the top-ranked category in April, up from number 9 in March, and sales of clothing improved sharply. Next, a retail bellwether, raised its guidance on 6 May after sales beat expectations. Total sales of health and beauty products, stationery, toys and jewellery fell in April, BRC said.