Retail sales, Great Britain: April 2020

A first estimate of retail sales in volume and value terms, seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted.

Nid hwn yw'r datganiad diweddaraf. Gweld y datganiad diweddaraf

Email Rhian Murphy

Dyddiad y datganiad:
22 May 2020

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
19 June 2020

1. Main points

  • The volume of retail sales in April 2020 fell by a record 18.1%, following the strong monthly fall of 5.2% in March 2020.

  • All sectors saw a monthly decline in volume sales except for a record increase in sales for non-store retailing at 18.0% and a continued increase in sales for alcohol stores at 2.3%.

  • The volume of clothing sales in April 2020 plummeted by 50.2% when compared with March 2020, which had already fallen by 34.9% on the previous month.

  • The proportion spent online soared to the highest on record in April 2020 at 30.7%, which compares with the 19.1% reported in April 2019.

  • All store types, except non-store, reached record proportions of online spending in April 2020 as some stores shifted to online only trading.

  • The three-month on three-month growth rate in the volume of retail sales decreased by 8.6%, with declines across all sectors except food and non-store retailing.

  • The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released a public statement on the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the production of statistics.

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2. Retail sales in April

In April 2020, all measures had record declines (from 1988 when records began) for both value and volume retail as many stores paused trading from 23 March following official government guidance during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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3. Retail sales at a record low as many retailers temporarily cease trading

Figure 1 shows that in April 2020 the volume of retail sales experienced the biggest monthly fall on record as government restrictions applied during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It was last at this index level in December 2005.

The government restrictions, imposed from 23 March 2020, impacted many store types as some reported zero turnover because of the temporary closure of stores during this reporting period (Table 2).

The record fall of 18.1% in April 2020 followed the fall of 5.2% in March 2020.

The fall of 4.1% for food stores was mainly due to a fall back from the strong growth of 10.1% in March 2020. Retailers provided feedback of panic buying in March, which caused a sales spike.

In April, 18.0% of food stores reported having zero turnover, but this was mainly due to the 28.7% of zero returns for specialist food stores. Many retailers for specialist food informed us of store closures during the pandemic.

In April, 13.6% of alcohol and tobacco stores reported having zero turnover, however, the volume of sales for these stores increased by 2.3%; a further rise from the strong growth of 23.9% in March.

The only other sector to show an increase in volume sales on the month was non-store retailing, reaching record levels at 18.0% growth in April 2020. Many consumers switched to online shopping with only 3.5% of online retailers reporting zero turnover.

The majority of fuel stores continued to trade with just 3.3% reporting zero turnover, however, movement restrictions meant that fuel sales declined by a record 52.0% in April.

All stores within the non-food store sector had record falls, with clothing stores experiencing the strongest month on month decline at 50.2%; continuing the sharp decline in March where sales fell by 34.9%.

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4. A closer look at the record falls in non-food stores

Since the government announced social distancing rules from 23 March 2020, a number of non-essential stores in the non-food sector temporarily paused trading resulting in record-low sales for these stores (Figure 2).

While all non-food stores fell dramatically in April 2020, clothing and other non-food stores saw the strongest declines for both March and April 2020.

Looking at information gathered from retailers in both the Retail Sales Inquiry and the fortnightly Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS), the BICS asked of those businesses continuing to trade, whether retailers experienced an increase or decrease to turnover between 20 April and 3 May (Figure 3).

Of those businesses responding to both the BICS and also the Retail Sales Inquiry, non-food stores (which are department stores, textile, clothing and footwear, household goods and other non-food) were more negatively impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, reporting larger proportions of decreased turnover in the reporting period. Food and non-store (online) retailing, on the other hand, reported the highest proportions of increased turnover (Figure 3).

According to the BICS fortnightly results, those businesses in common with the Retail Sales Inquiry for textile, clothing and footwear stores all reported a decrease in turnover, with no proportion of increased sales.

The Retail Sales Inquiry estimates, which are based on a much larger sample survey, similarly reported that textile, clothing and footwear stores had the largest fall in the volume of sales at negative 50.2% for April 2020 (Figure 4).

Clothing store sales

The sharp decline in April 2020 has resulted in the lowest levels seen in the volume of textile, clothing and footwear sales since the beginning of the series, when March 1988 was at a similar level.

Other non-food stores

Other non-food stores also showed a large fall in April 2020 at negative 46.0% when compared with March 2020. This was the lowest index level seen in other non-food since records began in January 1988 (Figure 5).

All store types within other non-food stores experienced strong declines (Figure 6).

While all stores showed strong falls in the volume of sales within other non-food stores, medical goods, watches and jewellery, and second-hand goods saw the largest monthly declines at 67.6%, 65.8% and 64.9% respectively. Feedback from medical goods stores claimed that many store closures negatively impacted sales in April 2020.

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5. Online retail sales

While we see record falls for many stores sales, online continued to do well in April 2020 as the proportion of online sales reached a record high across many store types (Table 3).

Table 3 shows the month-on-month growth rates for the amount spent online, in addition to the proportion of online sales for March and April 2020. The percentage weights indicate where money is spent online.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing reached a record high of 30.7% in April 2020, exceeding the original record reported last month of 22.4%. All sectors reached their highest-recorded proportions except non-store retailing, which reached record proportions in February and March 2020, both at 83.2%.

There was a larger uptake of online spending for food as its proportion of online spending increased from 5.7% to 9.3%.

Clothing stores continued to decline on the month reporting a monthly growth rate of negative 14.5%, this follows a fall of negative 16.1% in March 2020. However, clothing stores still reached a record proportion of online sales at 46.4% when compared with 26.6% in March 2020.

While many stores temporarily paused trading from 23 March 2020, there was a larger uptake in online sales and some stores offered online-only options. Table 4 shows the proportion of respondents who reported online only sales for food and non-food stores.

While we see record declines in total retail sales, there was a high percentage of stores that shifted to completely online sales. With the temporary closure of their stores the shift to online has resulted in record proportions of online spending for all stores. Online-only retailers, who were already operating online, were the only exception to this.

Textiles, clothing and footwear shows the largest proportion of businesses focused on completely online-only trading at 41.0%.

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6. Retail Sales data

Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 22 May 2020
A series of retail sales data for Great Britain in value and volume terms, seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted.

Retail Sales pounds data
Dataset | Released 22 May 2020
Total sales and average weekly spending estimates for each retail sector in Great Britain in £ thousands.

Retail Sales Index internet sales
Dataset | Released 22 May 2020
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 22 May 2020
Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.

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7. Glossary

Value (amount spent)

The value estimates reflect the total turnover that businesses have collected over a standard period.

Volume (quantity bought)

The volume estimates are calculated by taking the value estimates and adjusting to remove the impact of price changes.

Seasonally adjusted

Seasonally adjusted estimates are derived by estimating and removing calendar effects (for example Easter moving between March and April) and seasonal effects (for example increased spending in December as a result of Christmas) from the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) estimates.

Non-seasonally adjusted

Non-seasonally adjusted estimates refer to raw data where the effects of regular or seasonal patterns have not been removed.

Non-store retailing

Non-store retailing refers to retailers that do not have a store presence. While the majority is made up of online retailers, it also includes other retailers such as stalls and markets.

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8. Measuring the data

This bulletin presents estimates of the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) in the retail industry for the four-week period 5 April 2020 to 2 May 2020.

Unless otherwise stated, the estimates in this release are seasonally adjusted.

Retail sales collects turnover data from retailers, which is money through the till before any deductions, including refunded items. This provides us with the best indicator for consumer spending during the reference period.

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures the value and volume of retail sales in Great Britain on a monthly basis. Data are collected from 5,000 businesses in the retail industry, with all businesses employing over 100 people or with an annual turnover of more than £60 million receiving an online questionnaire every month. The survey's results are used to produce seasonally adjusted monthly, quarterly and annual estimates of output in the retail industry at current price and at chained volume measures (removing the effect of price changes).


More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Retail Sales QMI.

This year, with another full year's data, we will be undertaking our annual update of our commodity deflators to improve our estimates of volumes sold.

As part of our quality reviews, we will be updating our industry weights in the near future, which will incorporate the most up to date data.

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9. Strengths and limitations

Uses and users

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) is an important economic indicator and one of the earliest short-term measures of economic activity. It is used in the compilation of the national accounts and widely used by private and public sector institutions, particularly by the Bank of England and HM Treasury to assist in informed decision- and policy-making.

Comparability to international data

The most recent international estimate of retail sales available for April 2020 was published by the US Census Bureau on 15 May 2020. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, April 2020 (PDF, 1954KB) they include the amount spent in the US retail industry, including motor vehicles and parts and food services.

Data for Northern Ireland are published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

It should be noted that accurate comparisons cannot be made against these or other international statistics for a variety of reasons, including differences in methodology.

Eurostat also published their latest estimates of the Volume of retail trade (PDF, 528KB) across the European Union on 6 May 2020 for March 2020. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU28 when compared with February 2020.

As the UK leaves the EU, it is important that our statistics continue to be of high quality and are internationally comparable. During the transition period, those UK statistics that align with EU practice and rules will continue to do so in the same way as before 31 January 2020.

After the transition period, we will continue to produce our national accounts statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority's Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with internationally agreed statistical guidance and standards.

The Withdrawal Agreement outlines a need for UK gross national income (a fundamental component of the national accounts, which includes gross domestic product (GDP)) statistics to remain in line with those of other EU countries until the EU budgets are finalised for the years in which we were a member. To ensure comparability during this cycle, the national accounts will continue to be produced according to European System of Accounts (ESA) 2010 definitions and standards.

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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Rhian Murphy
Ffôn: +44 (0)1633 456495