UK retail sales grow at fastest rate in 18 months

Lianna Brinded
·Head of Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Photo: Getty
Brits staying at home during lockdown has had an effect on what types of goods they are buying. Photo: Getty

UK retail sales grew at their fastest rate in 18 months after volumes rose between April and September.

According to the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey, grocers were the driver of the expansion in sales with a majority of food stockists reporting rocketing revenue.

The survey of 123 companies, including 56 retailers, is a key barometer on how retail sales are faring across the UK.

“The latest results suggest that the recovery in retail spending over the summer months has continued into September, which is welcome news, but retailers appear cautious over the near-term outlook,” said Ben Jones, CBI principal economist.

“The data highlights that there have been clear winners and losers within the retail sector as spending habits have changed. While some sub-sectors are thriving, others are still facing desperately difficult times.

“With social distancing measures tightening again, those working in the hardest-hit sectors will be fearing the worst. It’s clear that targeted support measures will be needed to ensure that viable businesses can emerge intact on the other side of this crisis.”

READ MORE: Brits rushed to buy new sofas as soon as COVID-19 lockdown lifted

The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on the retail sector due to nationwide lockdowns and heavy restrictions and rules around trading to keep citizens safe. For months, people have been staying at home with movements restricted to activities that are deemed as vital — such as for grocery shopping and visiting the doctor or pharmacy.

Brits staying at home during lockdown has also had an effect on what types of goods they are buying, other than the essentials like food:

  • Sales of household furniture were 39% higher than normal

  • DIY & hardware sales were up 20%

  • Groceries were up 10%

This falls in line with recent company reports that showed people are focusing on their living arrangements more than ever.

The boss of DFS Furniture (DFS.L) said that Brits rushed to buy new sofas as soon as the strict coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted in the UK, leading to a “significant proportion” of profit recovery in the last few months. Kingfisher (KGF.L), owner of DIY giant B&Q, also reported a surge in pre-tax profit and online sales as Brits rush to renovate their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, as fewer people are going out and socialising, sales of clothing were down 40% and department store sales were down 23%.

READ MORE: Pound depressed ahead of UK chancellor unveiling jobs protection plan

“Other survey results showed a slowdown in internet sales growth to below the long-run average, with growth expected to ease further next month. Orders placed upon suppliers fell for the 11th consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace than in August, and are expected to fall again next month,” said CBI’s Jones.

“Meanwhile, wholesalers reported their sixth consecutive month of declining sales volumes, and at a sharper pace than last month. Motor traders, however, reported their third consecutive month of sales growth, although this was slower than in the year to August.”

Times are set to get tougher for retailers as the government announced a number of new measures to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.