Since the first wave of COVID-19 hit the UK – and the subsequent restrictions were enforced, way back in March of 2020 – the world of retail has undergone some enormous changes.
For one, digital transformation is reported to have been accelerated by about seven years – as stated by McKinsey – as businesses had no choice but to adapt online, with retail brands finding new ways to connect with their customers, particularly through their innovative use of social media.
Since then – over a year since the initial restrictions were put in place – we’ve come out of lockdown, with non-essential retail businesses having reopened on April 12th (or April 26th by businesses operating in Scotland) much to the relief of shoppers, who’d been confined to shopping from their sofas for most of the last year.
But now that high street retailers have been back in business for a couple of months, and the dust is beginning to settle in the new post-COVID world of retail, how are they actually faring in the post-lockdown world?
Unsurprisingly, brick-and-mortar retail boomed in April.
Since shoppers were finally allowed to return to physical retail stores in April, there was a significant increase in the number of retail sales made, showing an increase of 9.2% on the month before, with non-food based retail stores making the biggest contribution to this percentage.
The percentage of sales was also significantly higher than in the months preceding the first ever COVID-19 restrictions – for example, 10.6% higher than in February 2020 – showing that people were shopping more on average than they were before the pandemic hit.
Non-essential retail sales continued to climb in May.
As the initial excitement for in-store shopping simmered down, it might have been expected that retail sales would decrease – which they did by 1.4% from the previous month – however, this decline came primarily from food retail, which contributed a 5.7% decline, in all likelihood due to hospitality reopening and more people eating out as a consequence.
Conversely, other ‘non-essential’ retail experienced a further increase in sales from the previous month, showing that the online shopping habits acquired during lockdown did nothing to douse people’s enthusiasm for the in-person shopping experience.
Online sales took a hit as people returned to physical stores.
As people were able to go and shop at their favourite stores in person, it’s no surprise that all retail sectors experienced a hit to their online sales in both April and May, experiencing a decrease of 4.7% in April and a further 1.4% in May (with the exception of food retailers, where online shopping habits seem to have stuck).
Having said this, the number of online sales reported since the restrictions have been eased is still significantly higher than they were before the pandemic; the number of sales made in May 2021, for example, was 55.8% higher than the number reported for February 2020, before any restrictions had been enforced.
Since the easing of restrictions when non-essential businesses were first allowed to reopen, retail has been thriving, particularly in brick-and-mortar non-food retail businesses. Moreover, although online sales have taken a small hit in the last few months, when compared with the pre-pandemic online sales the figures have surged, and while online sales may fluctuate slightly over the coming months they are likely to remain at this new, higher level of ‘normal’ in the future.