2020: worst year ever for retailers, but online sales soar


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The latest ONS retail figures reveal 2020 was the worst year on record for retail, but a huge success for online sales.

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) make grim reading for retailers, revealing a slump of –1.9% in the volume of sales during 2020 when compared to 2019. That is the largest year-on-year fall on record.

In contrast, the value of online sales played its part in preventing an even greater disaster, up 46.1% compared to 2019.

However, it wasn’t all bad news as food stores bucked the trend of 2020 with growth of 4.3%, as shoppers continued heading to supermarkets, which remained open as “essential” retailers throughout restrictions. Many also benefitted from the closure of the hospitality sector, with upticks in alcohol sales.

December saw a major boost to clothing stores too, the agency said, with strong monthly growth of 21.5% – rebounding from a large fall in November of 19.6%. High street clothes stores have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic due to enforced closures under Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

Ed Monk, associate director, personal investing at Fidelity international, told Yahoo! Finance that the strong rise in online sales showed “that 2020 was a watershed for how and where we spend our money”.

He added: “The festive period offered little respite for retailers with many still closed due to localised restrictions. It’s a disheartening, if unsurprising, indicator of the impact of Covid-19.”

Added ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks:

“Once again home deliveries helped save the day. E-commerce gained 29.6% of all retail sales for December. Online sales were up an eye-popping 61.4% compared to December 2019 with online food up 126.4% YOY. Brits largely feasted on turkey and trimmings bought online this Christmas.

“You have to look hard through these figures to see any sign of a merry Christmas for High Street retailers, but there was one glimpse of hope. December’s online sales actually fell back -6.2% compared to November. The reopening of physical stores after Lockdown 2 in November did encourage shoppers back to the High Street in early December for a brief flurry of shopping.”

In January 2017, ParcelHero released 2030: Death of the High Street, a high-profile report that was discussed in Parliament. You can full report here: https://www.parcelhero.com/blog/news-updates/2030-dead-end-for-the-high-street.

Chris Price


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