Commenting on the Office of National Statistics retail sales figures for March 2021
Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said:
“Today’s retail sales figures for March are better than expected, with both an improvement on February’s already positive performance, as well as an almost 8% increase on this time last year. And this has occurred even with non-essential stores closed across the country and against the comparison of grocery stockpiling at the start of the first lockdown last March.
“Looking more closely at different categories of stores, there were improvements across the board, with grocery stores benefitting from the continued closure of hospitality and the lack of product shortages and empty shelves they experienced last year.
“Meanwhile other categories have been helped by both increased online penetration (still 35% of overall sales, compared with 20% last January), as well as consumer sentiment that is at its highest level since before the Global Financial Crisis, according to PwC’s latest research.
“In particular, clothing sales, while still over 40% lower than pre-pandemic levels, continued their strong bounceback, with a 17.5% improvement compared with February, suggesting that consumers are cautiously looking forward to the end of lockdown with new outfits ready for newly permitted social events.
“Outside of core retail sales, the increase in petrol sales also reflects the ending of the stay-at-home order and greater willingness to travel, which is a promising sign as the country continues to open up from lockdown.
“However, much though these figures will give cheer to the whole sector, retailers will be hoping that these positive signs translate into a sustained return to the physical stores as they reopen across the UK over the course of April. The real test of whether pent-up demand can be turned into actual sales will come with next month’s figures.”
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