The latest batch of retail sales statistics revealed grounds for cautious optimism, with official data reporting a sharp rebound in June’s overall figure and survey evidence pointing to further growth in July.
Data published by ONS showed that retail sales volumes increased by 13.9% in June compared to the previous month. This surge in sales, which followed April’s record fall and a partial recovery in May, resulted in volumes recovering to around pre-lockdown levels as the reopening of shops released significant pent-up demand.
Indeed, sales rose to within 0.6% of the figure recorded in February 2020, the last month unaffected by the coronavirus lockdown. However, while this does point to a significant recovery, the data also highlighted some notable variations across the retail landscape, with some store types performing much better than others.
Picking up on these themes, ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow commented: “Clothing is down by about a third and if you look at the High Street more generally, sales in physical shops are also down by about a third. Food shops continue to do quite well, as we're eating at home more. But the real growth has been in online sales. Online sales continue to go from strength to strength."
The latest Distributive Trades Survey published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also reported further signs of optimism, with the monthly retail sales balance rising to +4 from -37 in June. This was the survey’s highest reported balance in over a year and suggests the overall recovery in sales continued in July.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the CBI survey also painted a mixed picture across the retail scene, with the improvement primarily driven by strong grocery and hardware/DIY sales. Most other retail sectors continued to report declines, although these were generally less severe than in recent months.