2020 sees biggest recorded fall in retail sales

Retail sales saw their biggest ever annual fall in 2020 as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll.

Sales across the UK fell by 1.9 per cent last year, compared to 2019, the largest year-on-year decrease since records began in 1997, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

This news comes despite a slight pick-up in December, as a brief easing of some lockdown measures meant more stores were able to open. Prior to this, however, sales slumped by 2.6 per cent in November during the previous month-long national lockdown across England, which came to an end 2 December.

In this latest ONS Retail Sales Index, department stores recorded an annual decline in sales volumes of -5.2 per cent in 2020 when compared with 2019.

Non-store retailing, however, saw a record annual increase of 32 per cent last year. Total online retailing values increased by just over 46 per cent for the year when compared with 2019 – the highest annual growth reported since 2008.

Some sectors were able to “buck the trend” last year, said ONS Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics Jonathan Athow.

“The increased popularity of click and collect and people buying more items from home led to a strong year for overall internet sales, with record highs for household goods and food sales online.”

Responding to these latest figures, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “There was no Christmas cheer for retail as the industry found itself in the firing line for last minute Coronavirus restrictions. Non-food stores continued to suffer the brunt of these restrictions, with large non-food stores once again seeing double digit declines.

“With no end in sight for retailers closed in lockdown, many will struggle to survive under a mounting rent burden, and a return to full business rates in April. Decisive action is needed to save jobs, shops and local communities, with town and city centres looking to be particularly hard hit unless the Government acts now.”