Retail sales for 2020 show largest annual fall in history – ONS

Retail sales in 2020 saw the largest annual fall since records began in 1996, as retailers continued to suffer from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite a 0.3% rise in sales volumes during December, the figure for 2020 as a whole saw sales down 1.9%, with clothing sales slumping by more than a quarter.

The slight rise in December was far less than the 1.2% increase expected by economists and left sales 2.9% higher than a year earlier, according to the official figures.

Spending online, however, surged by 46.1% in 2020.

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said: “Some consumers will have permanently converted to the convenience of online shopping, accounting for 29.6% of all retail sales this month, and the highest annual growth since 2008.

“For retailers, this doubles down the importance of an online shopfront and engaging virtual shopping experience. Whilst the role of the physical store will remain competitive, the wider retail landscape will likely see reinvention. A new era of ‘hyper-localisation’ and ‘fast fail’ shops could herald a revived and more relevant high street longer-term.

“For now, pent-up demand is likely to see shoppers out in force once restrictions lift, as we saw in summer at the end of the first lockdown. Crucially, the reopening of the high street will this time coincide with the ongoing vaccine rollout, which should boost consumer confidence and see them return to stores once more.”

The UK economy has been harder-hit than any other advanced country during the coronavirus pandemic – in November the economy shrank by 2.6% mainly thanks to a four-week lockdown in England and similar measures in other parts of the UK.

With non-essential retail still closed under government rules, most economist expect a further contraction in the next financial quarter.

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