Two tier retail sector emerges as food sales soar but fashion plummets

The pandemic has led to the creation of an effective two tier retail sector, with some areas posting significant growth and others in serious decline.

Data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) published today shows that out of the 13 categories tracked, eight remained in significant decline. Spending on home centric categories such as food, computing and home appliances have all increased while others, such as fashion and beauty, remain in double digit decline compared to pre-pandemic levels.

On a total basis, sales increased by 8.3 per cent in March compared to the same period in 2019, against a decline of 0.5 per cent in March 2019. This is above the 3-month average growth of 2.7 per cent.

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Food sales increased 14.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis but non-Food retail sales decreased by 4.5 per cent. Meanwhile online non-food sales increased by 94 per cent in March on a two-year basis, against a growth of 3.0 per cent in March 2019.

Fashion has had a tough 12 months.

Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said: “As we pass the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, the retail industry has generally remained strong, despite numerous challenges. 2020 was a year like no other, with panic buying followed by a sharp decline in consumer spend, and then the first national lockdown which resulted in erratic retail sales. This makes a direct comparison challenging, so for a truer indication of where the industry stands, we changed our year-on-year comparisons for a two-year, pre-pandemic comparison period.”

The data is published after polling showed consumer confidence rising steadily as the economy starts to reopen.

According to the latest analysis from YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) two fifths of the public believe the economy will be expanding a year from now .

The majority, 61 per cent, however still believe it will be contracting.