Retailers suffer record collapse in sales after coronavirus store closures

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

Retail sales reported the sharpest fall on record last month as many stores shut their doors in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

Clothing sales plunged by a third, according to new figures, while the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said total sales volumes dived 5.1 per cent.

It comes as B&Q bosses have announced they would be reopening some shops, following similar measures taken by some car companies and construction firms.

B&Q bosses have announced they will start to reopen some of their stores. Credit: PA

B&Q has announced it will reopen 155 of its nearly 300 stores with the remaining sites set to reopen "by early May".

Across the UK, the retailer had already reopened 75 stores, with shorter opening hours than usual and social distancing measures in place both inside and outside shops.

Hardware stores were exempt from the businesses and venues ordered by the Government to remain closed but B&Q took the decision to close.

B&Q CEO, Graham Bell, said: "We're confident that our strict social distancing measures keep customers and colleagues safe while helping homes and gardens, as well as people's wellbeing, to be maintained."

It follows a similar move by construction firms Taylor Wimpey and Vistry Group who on Thursday announced plans to return to work.

Following suit, rival housebuilding firm Persimmon has also announced it would restart operations.

The Yorkshire firm said it will begin a "phased re-opening" of sites from Monday April 27 to help complete new homes under construction.

Top bosses at Taylor Wimpey will not get their added rewards this year after the company closed all of its construction sites. Credit: PA

Chief executive officer at the firm, David Jenkinson, said: "Nothing is more important to us than the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, our colleagues, sub-contractors and suppliers.

"Having spent the last month developing and testing new site protocols that incorporate the necessary social distancing and protective measures, we believe that we are now able to return to site safely and support the UK's economic recovery from the pandemic."

Elsewhere, businesses have been encouraged to find workarounds to keep trade going despite the lockdown.

Scotland's rural affairs and natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon has written to garden centre bosses urging them to consider a mail order service for selling plants and seeds.

Devolved governments in both Wales and Scotland have issued more details of their plans to ease lockdown measures in recent days.

A breakdown of UK retail sales from March 2019 to March 2020. Credit: PA Graphics

On the latest retail figures, the ONS added that clothing store sales saw a particularly sharp fall when compared with February, moving 34.8 per cent lower.

In contrast food stores reported their strongest growth on record in March. According to the figures, sales jumped 10.4 per cent with shoppers stocking up on essential groceries.

Supermarkets saw sales volumes increase by 10.3 per cent while alcohol-focused stores saw a 31.4 per cent surge in volumes.

The ONS said the total value of online food sales in March was more than double the same month last year, rising by 101 per cent.

The concourse of London's Waterloo station is almost devoid of travellers as shops and business remain closed. Credit: PA

Rhian Murphy, head of retail sales at the ONS, said: "Retail sales saw their biggest monthly fall since records began over 30 years ago with large declines in clothing and fuel, only partially offset by strong food sales.

While Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at Crimson Black Capital, described the results as "retail Armageddon".

Fiona Cincotta, financial market analyst at GAIN capital, warned: "The data only captures the start of the lockdown, so we know these figures are going to get a lot worse.

"Added to that, without a vaccine it is highly unlikely that there will be a quick rebound in the retail sector.

"Even when the UK starts to ease lockdown restrictions and reopen its economy, there will almost certainly be restrictions on shops, with limits to customer numbers at any one time."

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