‘March retail sales show cautious promise’, says RSM

Retail sales volume in March increased by 5.4 per cent when compared with the previous month and sales were 1.6 per cent higher than February 2020 before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic hit

Food sales saw monthly growth of 2.5 per cent with a boost for specialist food stores as consumers prepared for the Easter period. Non-food stores provided the largest contribution to the uplift, with clothing store sales increasing by 17.5 per cent and other non-food stores up 13.4 per cent. Online penetration remains strong at a proportion of 34.7 per cent of overall sales but decreased month on month.

Commenting on the ONS retail sales data for March 2021, Jacqui Baker, partner and head of retail at RSM, said: ‘With panic buying seen a year ago now well behind us, March retail sales show cautious promise as the roadmap out of lockdown begins to unwind. Retailers will be glad to see month on month growth as a steady upward trend continues. A positive sign, but there’s still some way to go before the market recalibrates post-lockdown and retailers can begin to reforecast as new consumer buying habits emerge.

‘Social restrictions easing at the end of the month saw consumers flock to the butchers and bakers in anticipation of Easter and BBQs. With kids back to school in early March and outdoor gatherings permitted, even beleaguered clothing and accessories retailers saw an uplift in sales as consumers prepared for the first stages of reopening. This will come as a relief to many retailers as this week’s ONS Consumer Price Inflation Index revealed extended discounting into March as the industry tried to offload unsold stock before the next season drops.

‘Online penetration dipped marginally but remained strong in March but April is where we’ll begin to see if the split between online and bricks and mortar begins to plateau.’

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