Commenting on the Office of National Statistics retail sales figures for December 2020
Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said:
"In a month where non-essential shops and the high street hospitality industry experienced revolving doors of lockdown, changing tiers, Christmas and finally another lockdown, flat headline retail sales vs. November seems almost a miracle.
“In fact, compared with last December, retail sales growth of +5.5% (excluding fuel) appears to confirm the resilience of the sector and of consumers’ appetite for shopping in the face of the pandemic. This growth was aided by a more than doubling of online sales in categories such as groceries, where supermarkets have proven how quickly they are able to add capacity to serve a nation unable to celebrate in restaurants and pubs.
“However, the overall performance belies a number of important issues, with some sectors faring far worse than others. With less demand for seasonal partywear following the cancellation of Christmas parties and large family gatherings, fashion continued its annus horribilis, with sales volumes still almost 20% below pre-pandemic levels. And across the whole of retail, the sector has experienced its first annual volume decline since 2011, underlining the extent of the impact of the pandemic on consumer demand.
“As we enter the new year, what gives us confidence is seeing how quickly the sector bounced back following the reopening of non-essential retail after lockdowns 1 and 2 in June and early December. There’s little doubt that consumers are ready and willing to support the high street once able. Non-essential stores will be hoping current restrictions are lifted quickly as we head into spring. While e-commerce has shown that it can replace some of the volume lost during the pandemic, for many purchases nothing can replace the personal experience of visiting a physical store.”
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